EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – President Joe Biden must highlight the role of new Americans in the economy and push for immigration reform in his State of the Union address Tuesday, advocates say.
It is important that the president show strong leadership to advance the issue, given he is facing a divided Congress and Republicans are ramping up border-enforcement rhetoric, leaders of immigrant advocacy organizations said on Friday.
“When President Biden was running for office in 2020, he promised me that his administration would immediately act on our immigration priorities,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, executive director of the immigrant-led nonprofit Mi Familia Vota. “He can reframe the conversation on immigration with his State of the Union address. To do so, he must unambiguously embrace our history as a country that welcomes immigrants and those who need help.”
Sanchez Barba and leaders of other advocacy organizations spoke during a national call with reporters. The backdrop is Biden’s planned Tuesday address before both houses of Congress, and an immigration crisis that has Republicans fuming over the more than 4 million Border Patrol encounters with undocumented migrants in the past two years.
Political division in Congress might be an obstacle for the comprehensive immigration reform Biden promised, but a strong negotiating effort by the president might make the difference on bills that some Republicans might support, the advocates said.
“Considering the political realities there are two bills that have bipartisan support. It has been 21 years since the DREAM Act was introduced. It is a travesty that it has not passed. ‘Dreamers’ are in legal jeopardy in the courts; there is more of an urgency to protect this population,” said Kevin Appleby, interim director of the Center for Immigration Studies in New York.
The act would give a path to citizenship to hundreds of thousands who were brought to the United States without authorization when they were children. President Barack Obama created a temporary program through executive order suspending their deportation and providing two-year renewable work permits. The program known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is being challenged in court.
The other is the Farm Workers Modernization Act, which has twice passed the House but stalled in the Senate. The bill makes changes to the H-2A agricultural guest worker program to provide participants and their families legal status through continued employment.
“Farmworkers are essential to the economy. Without them, food prices go up and we see shortages (of products) like we saw in the COVID era,” Appleby said.
Biden also must use the power of the federal government’s purse to make an immediate impact on the humanitarian migration crisis the country has seen in the past few years, the advocates said.
“Making appropriations is absolutely critical,” said Michael Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights Frist. “Instead of more funding for ICE and CBP facilities, the real priority needs to be USCIS funding, and the president has control over that,” he said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) oversees migrant detention centers. Customs and Border Protection is the primary border enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security, with thousands of customs officers assigned to ports of entry and thousands of Border Patrol agents holding the line in between.
“We know that we can have a secure border, a secure country, and remain a leader in protecting those seeking refuge, safety and opportunity,” Breen said. “Managing migration in a humane way should be the first priority of U.S. policy, rather than trying to prevent it and punishing people seeking refuge.”