President Joe Biden’s inauguration and 100-day agenda promised to be ambitious and has attempted to tackle some gargantuan policy issues facing the United States. The passage of the massive American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 solely with the use of Democratic votes signaled the President’s willingness to use his political muscle to push through a huge $1.9 trillion dollar package aimed at buoying the US economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the glow of Mr. Biden’s election has run headfirst into the realities of governing particularly on the immigration front.
The surge of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico to the United States’ southern border has placed a huge strain on the Department of Homeland Security, which has had to scramble to handle the budding humanitarian crisis. These migrants, fleeing poverty, violence and dysfunctional governance in their home countries, appear to be responding to Mr. Biden’s softening of his predecessor’s hardline immigration stance, as well as the new Administration’s willingness to house migrant children, who were previously removed expeditiously. The problem has been an intractable issue for multiple administrations, as the poverty, drug trade and ineptness of these governments has caused an increasing number of migrants to flee these broken societies. While returning individuals to their home countries may seem like an obvious immediate response, addressing the core issues of what is causing the migrant flow has emerged as a top priority for the Biden team. Absent resolving some of these systemic issues, policy makers should not expect any type of differing behavior from individuals simply seeking a better life.
The border crisis has also dampened hopes of genuine political reform in Washington. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), co-sponsored a bill earlier this year to provide legal status to thousands of DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, said earlier this month that given the situation at the US southern border, he would likely not even support his own bill if brought up for a vote. Graham was quoted as saying that getting bipartisan support for such a bill would be “really hard…until you stop the flow”, which is a grave sign for advocates of reform. Graham has largely been seen as a reformer within the Republican party and his lack of support for reform would likely render any hopes for genuine reform dead on arrival.
All of this continues to come under the constant heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the American’s global preeminence in science, research and logistics. While the US lags behind some of its Western counterparts in vaccine distribution, the fact that much of the vaccination innovation has been powered by US firms and its immigrant workforce is a testament to the importance of maintaining a robust immigration system. As an immigration practitioner, I am reminded as to the miraculous and awe-inspiring impact that foreign nationals continue in our country on a daily basis. From construction workers to front-line nurses to vaccine researchers, the lifeblood of ongoing American ingenuity is directly tied to our ability to constantly reinvent ourselves and take the best of the world’s culture and make it our own. However, for all of the promise and hope that comes with romanticizing reform, addressing serious and complicated realities, many of which give policymakers a choice between only bad options, is going to be required to occur first. Whether Mr. Biden’s team is up for the challenge remains to be seen, but one thing is clear – the multi-faceted challenges that continue to exist in the country’s immigration system are not going away any time soon.