Immigration: What is needed for genuine reform?

Peace Advocate November 2022

By Sunny Robinson

As we in the United States approach election midterms, we face challenging immigration issues on many fronts. None of what Joe Biden promised – immigration reform, an end to the use of Title 42 as an excluding mechanism, economic assistance that would address the root causes of immigration, particularly from Central American countries – is in the works.  At the so-called Summit of the Americas in June 2022, Biden’s four point program was laid out: 1) stability and assistance for communities; 2) expansion of legal pathways; 3) humane migration management; 4) coordinated emergency response. None of these have come into play in any substantial way. 

Even here in supposedly liberal Massachusetts we have faced, after years of efforts, a continuing uphill battle securing a simple measure for immigrants – that being the ability to obtain a valid driver’s license. While this legislation, passed by 75% of the Mass Legislature and supported by a majority of Mass City Police Chiefs , Sheriffs, and D.A.’s, is about making roads safer by assuring all drivers are tested and obtain a license, it has been framed by the opposition as affecting other immigration issues, including voting. This is misinformation, at the very least. Thankfully, the November 2022  “Yes on 4” ballot measure passed, thus preserving this legislation and access to driver’s licenses starting in July 2023. But it advances nothing in the bigger picture.

On the national front, Title 42 – the Trump-era pandemic restrictions that prevent people from coming to the U.S. on alleged public health safety grounds – remains in effect.  Title 42 continues to be used as a mechanism that targets for denial focused mainly on those coming from Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and now Venezuela.  Ukrainians were exempt – or at least were up until April 25, 2022, when Title 42 may have begun being used to slow the processing of Ukrainians. In relationship to the continued use of Title 42, a recent court order preserves the decision that the use of Title 42 must end. Exactly how that will be carried out is not yet clear.

The use of Title 42 must be ended and sufficient, trained staff must be available to appropriately vet arrivants’ claims for asylum. Even Senators like Bob Menendez are objecting to the continued use of Title 42.  Deportations back to the very countries families are fleeing must end, as should requiring Mexico to accept more and more migrants. People arriving at the southern border ought to be readily transported to cities where they have families or other assistance, but surely not as a political ploy, as was recently done by Texas and Florida governors in their movement of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. Immigrants have long pleaded to be allowed to travel to be near family and to have their court cases heard alongside loved ones rather than be confined to the southern border states and courts.

In spring 2022, the DC based Latin America Working Group (LAWG) noted that, since March of 2020, there have been expulsions of 1.7 million migrants and asylum seekers, noting some might have suffered more than one expulsion.  Customs and Border Protection reports 2.4 million arrests in FY 2022, and notably, 1,765 Venezuelans, over the course of just four days in mid-October when Venezuelans also became subject to Title 42.  While exact numbers of Haitians returned to Mexico or deported back to conflict-ridden Haiti are not readily accessible, they remain significant.

Illustrated sign reading “Not one more deported; ni una más,” photo by Sunny Robinson

It is an international, legal obligation for the U.S. to adequately hear every single asylum claim. 

Further, people should not be detained while awaiting their immigration hearings. It makes no sense to add this extra cost for taxpayers when immigrants are simply seeking humanitarian assistance, safety, and their human rights. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh recently noted that the employment situation in the U.S. demonstrates our need for more people ready to work and the likelihood that our country’s productivity will suffer if so many jobs remain unfilled. While we ought to see migrants as more than just prospective employees, it is clear that immigration can benefit immigrants and the receiving country alike.

Additionally, there is the policy matter of DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals.) This group of young people is now estimated at about 600,000, all of whom arrived with their parent(s), have grown up in the U.S., know only the U.S., and now work productively including in many essential capacities in the U.S., including in health care. Those currently enrolled have been able to renew their status every two years if they can meet the fees and other requirements. But new applications for DACA have not been permitted. And long standing DACA recipients are still waiting for the promised forward movement to citizenship. This program may well be ended in the near future if not secured via Congressional action.

Those present in the U.S. under TPS (Temporary Protected Status) – are facing termination if those dates are not extended by Congress. For Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans this end-date is December 31, 2022. For Haitians it is in February of 2023. Currently, Guatemalans have no TPS status even as the political, economic and climate situations in their country worsen. Wisely, DC-LAWG now is also calling for the inclusion of Guatemalans in a TPS program. On Nov. 14th , President Biden extended TPS for Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Nicaraguans until June 2024 and for Haitian, Sudanese and Yemeni. While this is a great blessing, it nonetheless leaves these peoples in ultimately a precarious situation with an expiration date. For Haitians, it will require additional steps from those who arrived in the U.S. after 2011 to be included. There is, to date, no addition of TPS for Guatemalans or any forward movement on mechanisms toward citizenship for these TPS holders. Until those steps are secured in law by the Congress, everyone’s status remains temporary and deeply fraught. Achieving those steps of ultimate security will be
a challenging step in a severely divided Congress.

Moreover, there is the unfulfilled U.S. promise of economic assistance to address the root causes of immigration as laid out by the Biden-Harris administration. This promise has focused on the expansion of U.S. corporations as the assistance mechanism by, for example, increasing textile production in Honduras. But as Brigitte Gynther, of School of the Americas Watch, recently noted, these types of low-wage, exploitative jobs are the very jobs that have contributed enormously to driving people out of Honduras. They cause migration; they don’t resolve it! 

 How do we welcome and assist the many people seeking safety, human rights, and escape from disastrous climate change?  2.4 million, the number of immigrants arrested by Customs and Border Control in 2022, is indeed large. It is, however, very important to look at this from the perspective of these arrivants. People do not flee their home, lands and family unless the conditions are intolerable. They don’t risk all of the family’s resources if they have other options. They don’t flee if they are safe, not exploited, and able to find decent ways to protect and provide for their families. And they come to the U.S. not only because we are a rich country near at hand, but because the U.S. has played a huge role in destabilizing the situations in their countries, whether it is through current or past military, political, or economic interference. 

Justice demands that we continue to press the Congress to act on that four point program: 1) stability and assistance for communities; 2) expansion of legal pathways; 3) human migration management; 4) coordinated emergency response. Assistance must start with economic supports that provide the people of these countries with real economic opportunities, not just promote the ultimate profits of U.S. corporations like textile corporations, or extractive endeavors such as mining and hydro- electric endeavors which usurp and destroy local resources.

Biden, Harris, Blinken, and Mayorkas are not solely responsible for all these needed advances.  Congress must also pass measures that address these needs. DACA is the perfect example. Until it is codified into law by Congress it can be passed, overturned, reauthorized, overturned again –  back and forth from one administration to the next. 

We, the justice and peace segments of our country, must ensure that Congress does so. That will not be an easy task. In the lead up to the midterms, we have seen even some fairly progressive folks sidestep the immigration issues. Republicans continue to use all anti-immigration measures as wedge issues to try to advance their power grabs. That must change. Just how much will be clear once the results of the upcoming mid-term elections have been finalized! 

Even in Massachusetts, we see the Republican efforts to distort and overturn a very straight-forward piece of legislation aimed at making our roads safer rather than allow immigrants to seek drivers’ licenses regardless of status. (Question 4) With this measure successfully secured in Massachusetts, we can now turn to other advocacy issues on the national level.

Yes on 4 campaign sign, photo by Yes on 4 for Safer Roads

Please CLICK HERE to join Immigrant Rights Advocates all across the country in demanding our congressional representatives extend TPS for all current recipients, adding Guatemalans to that list; preserve DACA and open it to new applicants, creating a path for citizenship; stop detention at the borders, and end the use of Title 42 as a mechanism to exclude asylum seekers. 

These are the things that ought to be done! Let’s get to work.