The Future of Immigration Policy

While the past four years have represented an extraordinarily difficult time for refugees and immigrants, the 2020 election signals a new dawn in America for all who stand for welcome.

LIRS is moved by the prospect of an administration that sees immigration as a strength, not a weakness. The Biden-Harris administration is expected to move quickly through executive action on key reversals, such as reinstating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA], resuscitating the asylum process, and removing country bans. However, uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Senate, an unprecedented global pandemic, and a crowded executive and legislative agenda complicate efforts towards transformative and sustainable immigration reform.

Even so, LIRS believes the new Administration can advance a sensible, coherent, humane and just immigration system by focusing on the following ten areas. 

LIRS' TOP TEN IMMIGRATION POLICY PRIORITIES

In an effort to deter people from seeking asylum at the southern border, the outgoing administration carried out policies that cruelly targeted children and families. As a result, thousands of families were separated and unconscionable harm was inflicted upon them. Protections for children have also been severely weakened. Current policies fail to consider the emotional and developmental needs of children. They are treated as adults in immigration legal proceedings, during which they lack the right to representation by U.S.-appointed government counsel. The practice of separating families must end. Immigrant children must be protected throughout their journeys and the U.S. immigration system must reflect their unique needs and best interests.  

  • Ensure all families impacted by the policy receive an opportunity to have their case processed in compliance with international law   
  • Keep protections provided by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the Flores Settlement Agreement for arriving unaccompanied minors 
  • Pass legislation such as Funding Attorneys for Indigent Removal (FAIR) Proceedings Act, which provides access to counsel for children and other vulnerable populations 

We are witnessing the highest levels of global displacement in history, with over 80 million people forced to leave their homes. 29.6 million of them are refugees fleeing conflict and persecution. As displacement has risen, U.S. refugee admissions levels have sunk to historic lows, allowing just over 11,800 to be resettled in fiscal year 2020. It is time to restore U.S. leadership on refugee resettlement by reestablishing international cooperation, rescinding discriminatory bans, and expanding domestic and international capacity.  

  • Immediately terminate discriminatory travel and immigration bans that have had a disproportionate impact on individuals from predominantly Muslim and African countries and invite visa re-application for individuals from these countries
  • Immediately increase the fiscal year 2021 refugee admissions cap to historic norms and increase it each year as needed and reflected by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) needs assessment 
  • Guarantee at least 1% of the refugee admissions goal goes toward Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) to ensure restored delivery of key services and to prevent URM who are already in the pipeline from aging out of the program
  • Return to annual allocation based on broad geographic regions and provide flexibility to reallocate intra-year to accommodate unforeseen events 
  • Remove restrictions framed as national security measures that have only delayed refugee application processing 
  • Work with Congress to pass legislation establishing an annual admissions floor of at least 95,000 refugees (e.g., The Lady Liberty Act and The Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement [GRACE] Act) and limit presidential authority to restrict admissions based on religion and national origin (e.g. The National Origins-Based Anti-Discrimination [NO BAN] Act)

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged American society at every level and refugees, immigrants, and foreign-born residents have been critical to the fight against the virus. From the healthcare professionals who treat COVID-19 patients to the truckers who transport essential goods across the country to the workers who keep grocery stores running, refugees and immigrants are on the frontlines to help the country they now call their own. As the pandemic continues to spread across the country, meaningful solutions to address the crisis must answer the unique challenges faced by immigrants and refugees.

  • Include all taxpaying immigrants as part of any economic relief package 
  • Ensure no additional burden is placed on immigrants as they process their claims with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in light of backlogs caused by the pandemic
  • Ensure equal access to care, testing, and treatment for all immigrants and refugees, regardless of immigration status 

The outgoing administration issued several inhumane asylum policies targeting migrants seeking safety at the southern border. These decisions have made it impossible for people to request asylum, a right afforded by U.S. and international law. As a result, vulnerable migrants – including children and pregnant women – have been expelled from the border, denied the right to seek asylum, and left to languish in makeshift camps. The incoming administration must reverse these immoral and illegal policies. 

  • Re-establish asylum procedures at the border and end policies that deny protection and due process to asylum seekers, such as the Migrant Protection Protocols
  • Demand Congress institute comprehensive reforms, oversight, and transparency measures at both ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and Customs and Border Patrol Protection (CBP) and ensure staff are trained to treat migrants arriving at the border humanely and held accountable to professional standards
  • Enact a moratorium on deportations until recommendations for reforming ICE and CBP policies are developed
  • Reverse policies that bar victims of gang and domestic violence and members of the LGBTQ community from being eligible to apply
  • Reverse policies that implemented asylum application fees, a 365-day waiting period for work authorization, and the expansion of public charge regulations used to deter access to essential public services and resources
  • End asylum cooperative agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which limit the ability of asylum seekers to access critical protections and to claim asylum in the U.S. 

Detention alternatives and nonprofit case management programs are proven to be the most effective and cost-efficient way to support migrants as their asylum claims are processed. Those in detention lack access to basic health care and are more likely to experience re-traumatization. LIRS has successfully demonstrated the superiority of community-based interventions and strongly advocates for broader implementation of this model as a replacement for immigration detention.  

  • Expand holistic non-profit programs that offer case management services and facilitate access to legal counsel, as well as safe and affordable housing  
  • Ensure ATD (Alternatives to Detention) monitoring and check-in requirements are reasonable, so as not to impinge on the participant’s ability to participate in their legal case and maintain steady employment

There are certain immigrants who have strong ties to the U.S. but currently hold a status that only affords them temporary protections. Immigrants who were brought here as children and adults whose countries are not able to safely accept them due to ongoing conflict or environmental disasters have long complied with policies that require them to renew temporary permissions to remain in the U.S. — some for over a decade. Their temporary status should be reinstated and/or re-designated and legislation should be enacted to provide them with permanent relief that includes a path to citizenship.  

  • Immediately reinstate the DACA program and protect DACA applicants and their families from deportation and separation  
  • Work with Congress to ensure passage of legislation that grants DACA recipients and “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, legal permanent residency status and a path to citizenship (such as The American Dream and Promise Act)
  • Reinstate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforcement Deportation (DED) for populations who cannot safely return to their countries due to ongoing conflict, violence, or environmental disaster and provide a path to citizenship for those that have been in the U.S. for an extended period of time

According to a Department of Homeland Security report, there are an estimated 9.2 million legal permanent residents who are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. However, recent policy to raise fees and denaturalize individuals has discouraged many from applying. The next administration must remove barriers to naturalization and promote citizenship as an avenue for furthering immigrant integration.  

  • Adequately fund and staff USCIS to ensure naturalization and family-based immigration petitions are adjudicated within six months or less 
  • Reverse the recent policy that increased immigration application fees and review the criteria for fee waiver forms to remove obstacles for low-income individuals or people experiencing financial hardships who want to apply

Immigrants contribute greatly to the U.S. economy. Their high rates of employment help balance an aging native-born population and support Social Security and Medicare trust funds. Their mobility helps local economies respond to worker shortages and their high rates of entrepreneurship signal the creation of businesses that spark new jobs and develop new products and industries. The U.S. must foster this dedication and expand education and workforce opportunities to increase the economic prosperity of immigrants and their children. Through its 40 years of experience in refugee employment, LIRS has operated workforce development programs focused on upskilling and professional coaching. These programs have led to positive outcomes, such as heightened individual incomes and successful career advancement.

  • Support and fund programs that help immigrants and refugees build their professional skills and transfer their educational credentials to promote smoother integration into the workforce
  • Propose and pass legislation, such as the To Offer Refugees College Help (TORCH) Act, which would require states to offer in-state tuition for higher education to refugees, asylees, and special immigrant visa holders when they are first resettled

Nearly 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. contribute to the national economy, as well as their local communities. The majority of the undocumented population has lived in the U.S. for over ten years. Many of them are members of mixed-status families whose lives are governed by a patchwork of immigration policies. Congress must work together to eliminate immigration barriers.  

  • Remove three- and ten-year bars and waiting periods that prevent mixed-status families from staying together as they process their immigration claims and provide a pathway to citizenship
  • Re-establish family migration as a cornerstone of immigration policy by eliminating the backlog for family-based green cards

Climate change is contributing to the displacement of people around the globe, as it threatens lives and livelihoods. According to the International Organization for Migration, the number of climate-displaced people is projected to rise to 200 million by 2050; yet, at present, no country or international body legally affords any protections for climate-displaced people. The U.S. must work to reduce climate change effects, support adaptive and resilience efforts of affected communities, and create durable solutions for resettlement.

  • Collaborate with international bodies to develop a global framework that recognizes climate change as a primary factor of migration and implement safe pathways for resettlement as a last resort
  • Work with Congress to pass legislation that would create a global climate change resiliency strategy and a new national humanitarian program for people displaced by environmental disasters or climate change  

Please note: While this list is not meant to be exhaustive, it represents a bold and ambitious agenda that is within reach. The incoming Biden-Harris administration and the next Congress must work alongside advocates and community- and faith-based groups to offer people fleeing violence and persecution a chance to rebuild their lives, contribute to the nation, and raise a family in safety. If the U.S. aims to successfully reclaim a leading humanitarian role on the global stage, it must ensure its approach to refugee, asylum, and enforcement policy sets a gold standard.  

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WATCH OUR WEBINAR

Watch our virtual briefing, What’s Next? The Future of Immigration Policy – 2021 and Beyond, where we charted the top priorities for the next four years with a panel of migration policy experts and thought leaders.

FIRST 90 Days Toolkit

LIRS and our network partners are getting ready to welcome new policies, new programs, and new Americans as our nation prepares for a change in leadership. The first 90 days of the Biden-Harris administration are sure to bring a lot of changes—and we want you to be ready to join us in the work of welcome! The Hope Rising Inauguration Toolkit will provide you and your community with concrete ways to prepare for upcoming changes to the United States immigration system in the next 90 days (and beyond).

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