The key immigration issues during the presidential campaign
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May 30, 2019
USA Today offers a decent summary of the ten key issues that are emerging in the presidential campaign regarding immigration. The issues they identify are:
- DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) - DACA provides protection from removal proceedings for unauthorized immigrants who arrived in this country as children.
- TPS (Temporary Protected Status) - TPS provides protection from removal proceedings for immigrants from select countries that have faced severe political crises or natural disasters.
- Undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. - There are an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, should they be offered a path to citizenship?
- Family Separation - Families are often separated at the border when parents are charged with illegal entry. Trump escalated this approach last year as a deterrence strategy. What is congress’s role here in changing the legal regime underlying this practice?
- Asylum and Refugee systems - Should the asylum system be changed? The refugee cap, now at historic low, raised?
- Treatment of migrants in detention - The conditions under which people are detained are clearly inadequate. What should be done?
- Aid to Central America - Will more targeted aid to Central America help reduce incentives to migrate?
- Merit-based visa system - Does our visa system need to be changed?
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement - ICE has become a controversial agency leading to calls from some to abolish it.
- Sanctuary Cities - Some localities refuse to cooperate with ICE especially when it comes to detaining people picked up by local law enforcement and/or sharing arrest and court records.
The summary certainly captures much of what people are talking about. Missing from this list is obviously border security. Perhaps because both Democrats and Republicans agree on tightening border security this will be less of an issue - though it will be the launching point of every Trump speech, and of course, “the wall” remains a focal point of divisiveness.
You can read the full summary, with more background on each issue here.
So where are we at...
Of course it is still an open debate how much Democratic candidates will engage immigration on the campaign trail. They will not be able to avoid the issue, of course. But thus far only two of the 23 Democrats running have offered detailed plans for reforming the immigration system, neither of them are front-runners. It is no coincidence that both of these candidates are from Texas - Beto from El Paso and Julian Castro from San Antonio. Both cities have been on the frontline of the immigration debate for years.
Tuesday this week Beto O’Rourke laid out his plan to address immigration. The three “pillars” of his plan, “In Our Own Image” are:
- On day one of his presidency, Beto will use executive authority to stop the inhumane treatment of children, reunite families that have been separated, reform our asylum system, rescind the travel bans, and remove the fear of deportation for Dreamers and beneficiaries of programs like TPS.
- Beto will also immediately engage with Congress to enact legislation – focused on the key role families and communities play – that will allow America to fully harness the power of economic growth and opportunity that both immigration and naturalization will bring to our country’s future.
- Finally, Beto’s plan would strengthen our partnership with our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. We need to refocus on supporting democracy and human rights and invest in reducing violence because the only path to regional security runs through a more democratic and prosperous Latin America.
You can read his full plan here.
Julian Castro was the first candidate to offer substantial reform ideas. His plan was laid out in detail in a @JulianCastro_63280/putting-people-first-e0f765cee00c">Medium post, and is further detailed on his campaign’s website. Some of key specific ideas:
- The next president must start by reversing the cruel policies of the Trump administration — including the Muslim ban, wasteful spending on a pointless wall, and cuts to the refugee program — and ending the vile rhetoric that has scapegoated and vilified immigrants.
- We need a pathway to full and equal citizenship for the 11 million people living here peacefully, and contributing to our culture and our economy. We must protect Dreamers and their parents, and folks under protected status who fled natural disasters, persecution, or violence. We need to revamp the visa system and end the backlog of people who are waiting to reunite with their families.
- We must end the three and 10 year bars that require undocumented individuals — who otherwise qualify for legal status — to leave the country and their families behind, in order to attain citizenship.
- We need to create a secure and humane border. The worst of the government’s actions stem from a little-known, but significant policy that is central to today’s inhumane and flawed immigration system: Section 1325. (This is the law under which people are charged will “illegal entry” or “illegal re-entry.”)
- Castro also argues for “21st Century Marshall Plan” for Central America, a package of expanded assistance targeting governance reform and economic development.
Anti-Trump is not enough
Thus far the driving force in the debate and issue formation is Trump. The issue summary from USA Today, while fairly comprehensive, leads with Trump’s position and how Democrats have responded. Beto and Julian Castro frame their proposals entirely as a response to Trump - not surprising as they are hoping to run against him. Campaign politics aside though, we have to press the conversation further than Trump.
Our immigration system was a disaster prior to Trump taking office. Indeed Clinton’s presidency gave us many of the institutional features we see today, including mandatory detention, which led to a rapid increase in the number of those detained and expanded the role of private contractors managing detention and expanded border barriers the drove people into deserts where an estimated 7,000 have died in the last twenty years. Obama’s presidency was also deeply problematic in many ways - massive levels of deportations, reopening family detention centers, metering at the border with Mexico, doubling of border patrol, and yes, family separations.
The system is deeply flawed. We need to move beyond personalities and work toward new solutions. We may get some reforms out of this campaign that would make a big difference. But I hope we are able to recognize the deeply rooted problems here. We have never been a nation welcoming of immigrants, but one that at best tolerated them. Today’s inhumane policies are not new. They are reiterations of things done before. If Trump’s abject cruelty makes us finally face this, maybe we can get somewhere. But it goes far beyond Trump.