Opinion

MEHLMAN: Biden Immigration Policy — ‘America Last,’ Or America Not At All?

(HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Ira Mehlman Media Director, FAIR
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The times they will be changing, come January 20. Joe Biden will bring a change in style, a change in tone and a change in temperament when he assumes office next month. And like any new president, he will bring a change in policies. Perhaps none will be more notable than his handling of immigration policy.

For the past four years, Donald Trump has approached immigration policy from the standpoint that, like any other public policy, its primary purpose was to serve the greater good of the American people. In pursuit of that objective, his administration made good faith efforts to secure our borders, cut down on asylum and other sorts of fraud, end abuses in guest worker programs that undermine the interests of U.S. workers (especially after the pandemic struck) and to ensure that people who immigrate legally have the wherewithal to be self-sufficient.

Trump’s efforts were derisively referred to as “America first” policies – invoking the tainted views and rhetoric of isolationists in the 1930s and 1940s who employed the term to mean America only, and to heck with everyone else.

There is little question, based on his campaign stances and his record in the Senate and as vice president, that President-elect Biden takes a different view of immigration. Biden’s approach to immigration policy places immigrants and prospective immigrants as the primary constituency for U.S. immigration policy. Further, the Biden approach views immigration as a social justice issue – an implicit obligation that the United States owes to the downtrodden of the world and a measure of atonement for past sins, misdeeds and mistakes (real and imagined) of our past.

The Biden immigration vision is likely to manifest itself in one of two ways. The first could be described as “America Last,” an approach that is favored by the president-elect’s inner circle. The implementation of an America Last immigration policy might be described as a “kinder, gentler” facsimile of those that were in place when he served in the Obama administration. Biden has promised to dispense with the self-confessed subterfuge of the Obama administration’s efforts to appear to be enforcing immigration laws by counting people who were turned around at the border as deportations – an accounting sleight of hand that earned Obama the moniker “deporter-in-chief” by open borders radicals.

Gone too, under an America Last immigration policy, will be any efforts to crack down on employers who hire illegal aliens, or even the milder paperwork reviews conducted under Obama that allowed scofflaw employers to fire their illegal alien workers (who, in some cases acquired new bogus documents and were rehired under different names). Neither the employers nor the illegal aliens faced any real punishment, while American workers continued to be shut out of jobs or had to settle for decreased wages.

Like his former boss, Biden will likely resort to constitutionally questionable executive policies that protect illegal aliens (who are not violent criminals), provide them with public benefits, and permit them to work even though they are expressly prohibited from doing so under federal law.

America (or Americans) Last won’t be good enough for those on the far left of Biden’s coalition who reluctantly supported him because he was the only alternative to Trump. For this wing of the Democratic coalition, nothing less than open borders and an end to any form of immigration enforcement will do. These fire-breathing radicals, who intend to keep after Biden from the moment “So help me God” passes his lips, represent the “America Not At All” position on immigration.

“We say it loud and clear: DACA IS THE FLOOR NOT THE CEILING,” tweeted Greisa Martinez Rosas, director of United We Dream. Abolishing ICE and the Border Patrol and a permanent end to all deportations is what is above the floor (but still may not be the ceiling). Their demands also include that Biden make good on his campaign promises to back out of bilateral Trump agreement with Mexico and Central American governments that have stemmed the surges of migrants across our southern border. The mere suggestion that these pacts may be annulled has resulted in the formation of migrant caravans hitting the road even before Biden is sworn in, complicating his efforts to deal with a pandemic and its economic and fiscal fallout.

The America Not At All contingent may be small, but they are vocal, well-organized and are backed by an ascendant insurgency within the Democratic congressional caucus who are already a thorn in sides of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. They have demonstrated that they cannot be appeased, and will not be bought off with small gestures in their direction by the new administration.

Of course, Biden has one more option at his disposal if he chooses to exercise it. He can adopt some of the politically popular immigration positions taken by Trump. Many of his own advisors have cautioned him against pulling out of agreements with Mexico and Central America, and he could easily justify maintaining Trump limits on the admission of foreign guest workers amid an unemployment crisis. These steps would still fall far short of putting the American people first when it comes to immigration policy, but they would also stop short of putting them last, or not at all.

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).