The passing of Biden’s immigration bill remains uncertain

Jemima Malote

Arts & Features Writer

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Photo by Katie Bloomer 
Giovanny Pleites-Hernandez’s work includes exploring the level of representation afforded to Latinos by their representatives in Congress

The Biden administration’s comprehensive immigration reform bill faces a difficult challenge to legalization.

“The political change has allowed this opportunity to be present,” said George Pappas, an attorney at law in Henderson County who devotes his practice to immigration.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 looks to address various issues within the immigration system, provide an 8-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and increase refugee numbers. Proponents of the bill said they are cautious but optimistic about the bill’s passing in its current form or through separate legislation.

“I think eventually it will get through, I do,” said Mark Gibney, a professor of political science at UNC Asheville.

Gibney said Democrats face the challenge of changing the public opinions on long term immigrants, from criminals to people with families.

“It’s them taking that natural sympathy for the dreamers and applying it to these long term residence in the United States,” he said.

Gibney said one reason for the hesitation from Republicans stems from the likelihood for those legalizing to vote Democratic.

“What Republicans hear is that this would mean 11 million Democratic voters,” Gibney said.

Giovanny Pleites-Hernandez, a visiting lecturer of political science at UNCA, said although trends show undocumented populations lean more Democratic, they are not a monolith and the impact of undocummented voters depends on the state.

“I mean California, I don’t know if that would fundamentally change the politics of the state,” he said. “Texasthat’s a state we saw in the last senate races with Ted Cruz barely winning there. That could be a more substantive change.”

Gibney said the last major immigration reform bill to provide a pathway to citizenship for those living in the country illegally was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Introduced by Republican Sen. Alan K. Simpson and signed into law by President Ronald Regan, the legislation made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire unauthorized immigrants and allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for legal protection.

“I wouldn’t paint them as similar. That bill helped set the precursor or the roots of the more aggressive anti-immigrant structure that we saw take root in the ‘90s,” Pleites-Hernandez said. “This path to citizenship is the only real parallel between this bill and that bill.”

Pleites-Hernandez said Biden’s bill fails to substantially address border security and does not properly develop the infrastructure needed for processing claims which would result from its passage. He said the bill leaves the implementation and development of immigration policy to the states which causes variations in the system.

“We have variation in education and even bilingual education across different states. We also have different resources available, welfare and other aid programs available to immigrants,” he said.

In its current form, he said the issues cited by both political parties pose problems for the bill’s passage. The lack of border security poses an issue for bipartisan support and the lack of infrastructure and time period proposed for citizenship are problems for Democrats.

“This is only addressing a very small part of what most individuals, not even academics, would consider integration,” Pleites-Hernandez said.

Pappas said the Obama administration attempted to create a comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2009, but ultimately failed to gain Republican support because they were never willing to compromise, even when Obama strengthened border security.

“He wanted to show the Republicans at the time that he too could be strong on security and border patrol because he thought if he could do that, they would be more willing to compromise when he would eventually introduce an immigration bill,” he said.

Pappas said other challenges facing Obama’s immigration reform bill were the prioritization of healthcare and the lack of Democratic control in the senate.

“Remember there was no affordable care act when Obama became president,” he said.

Despite COVID-19 and the importance of Biden’s stimulus plan, Pappas said it has no impact on immigration laws.

“That’s a health and economic bill, not an immigration bill,” he said.

He said failure to pass an immigration reform bill led to the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was implemented by the Obama administration to protect young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as young children.

“On June 15, 2012, after failing on immigration reform he came out with DACA,” Pappas said.

Gibney said despite the Trump administration’s restrictions on immigration, Republicans have the same stance on immigration before and after Trump.

“It was opposition then and it will be opposition moving forward,” he said.

Despite the problems with the bill, Pappas and Gibney said they are optimistic for a pathway toward citizenship being created for those under the protection of DACA.

“There’s been strong political feedback that a separate dream act bill will be passed or at least introduced to allow dreamers or DACA status holders to apply for legal permanent residency,” Gibney said.