Rational Middle Podcast Discusses How New Congress Should Address Immigration

A recent episode of the Rational Middle of Immigration podcast highlighted the need for sensible immigration reforms in the US and examined how the 118th Congress will handle immigration. Speakers Charles Foster, Houston-based Immigration Attorney and former Advisor to President George W. Bush, and Loren Steffy, author and show host, called on President Biden to lead lawmakers in passing legislation that includes a DACA solution and improves border security by reforming asylum laws.

Considering the polarized environment around not just immigration but US politics as a whole, speakers predicted that bipartisan immigration reform would be a challenge for the 118th Congress.

If you listen to Republican leadership in the House, if you watch the drama of the process by which Kevin McCarthy finally was elected speaker, he is indebted to a hardcore Freedom Caucus who are clearly against anything that even remotely resembles immigration. They have already stated that their principal goals in the area of immigration will be investigations and impeaching...So you would have to say logically we are probably further away from the prospects of having any meaningful big immigration bill, or for that matter, even a small immigration bill, like a DREAM act,” said Foster of the new Republican House leadership.

The speakers noted that it has been over 30 years since a significant immigration bill was passed by congress, highlighting how outdated the US immigration system is. They also pointed out that while the latest immigration bills were passed under and advocated by Republican presidents, Republicans today would be less likely to support those bills.  

The last major immigration reform bill was passed in 1990 and signed by President George H.W. Bush. And before that, the last hugely important bill that dealt with the undocumented population was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, signed by another Republican president, Ronald Reagan. We also had President George W. Bush being a big proponent of immigration reform. But we're dealing with a Republican party today that is in no way remotely like that Republican party that was really historically pro-immigration,” said Foster.

Foster said politics around immigration shifted after 9/11, and that while many Republican lawmakers used to support sensible immigration reforms, now it seems they are focused on campaigning for border security and not much else when it comes to addressing the nation's immigration challenges.  

It’s one of the cardinal principles now when Republicans run for reelection. Secure the border, the border’s wide open. And that means that they can do nothing else,” said Foster.

There's some real genuine issues on the southern border, but even when it was better, it was always 'we can't do anything until the border is under control.' That’s always been a bridge too far. I think it's gotten worse simply because as we become more divided politically, this has become one of the two or three big hot button issues for the Republicans to play on, to divide people, and frankly to raise money,” he added.

Speakers pointed out that the border will never be 100% secure and that a 100% secure border should not be used as a goal to prevent further reforms. Having said that, they also said that something should be done about the currently "very high" numbers at the southern border.

Foster said if he was advising Biden he would tell him that his administration needs to take charge of border security for two reasons, “one, if they don't do it, politically it’s really gonna hurt them. And two, if you are for immigration reform, we've got to deal with the border. Otherwise, we'll never, ever have another good immigration bill, which we so desperately need,” he said.

Foster explained that what is most needed to improve the situation at the border is a legislative package to reform the US asylum laws that were created in 1980 during the cold war.

Our asylum laws, 1980 Refugee Act, was passed at the time that we were focused on the Cold War with the Soviet Union and people fleeing communism, with a primary basis of ‘did they have fear of persecution based upon their political beliefs?’ The vast majority of the people coming today are coming for very good reasons. They're fleeing violence, they're fleeing extreme poverty. But that is not what is covered under our asylum laws. Specifically. Our laws never contemplated that we'd have a million people showing up over relatively short periods of time on our southern border. So the law has to be amended in the context of our borders,” said Foster.

Foster encouraged President Biden to lead on a proposal that improves border security by reforming asylum laws and that includes a solution for DACA recipients and Dreamers.  

I would say the best approach is to come up with a package that would reform our asylum laws and then put the pressure on on the Republican House to pass that saying 'if you don't pass, you're all bark and no bite.'”

Speaking on the need for immigration reforms like a legislative solution for DACA and ID and Tax, Steffy highlighted the unprecedented inflationary workforce shortage in the US and the valuable role that immigrants can play in filling some of the jobs that the economy needs filled.

If you look at the latest unemployment numbers that we just saw a few weeks ago you've seen layoffs in white collar areas, but in blue collar areas, there's still a huge demand for workers and a lot of the undocumented, either those that are trying to come into the country or those that are already here, could fill a lot of those roles. It's a vast potential labor pool that we could tap,” said Steffy, asking Foster why the economic and fiscal arguments to create a method for unauthorized immigrants to earn legal status don't get more traction politically.

Foster suggested that part of the reason for political inaction is that many of the businesses and industries with rampant workforce shortages in which unauthorized immigrants work, such as construction, food production, restaurants, and hospitality, are benefitting from the “defacto amnesty” that unauthorized immigrant workers are receiving from a lack of interior immigration enforcement against employers.

I think the answer is our enforcement is on the border. Even under Trump there was very little interior enforcement. Some of those folks that would normally be complaining, they get by with undocumented workers,” said Foster.

We do have a temporary workers program in the US, and it is called illegal immigration because there is no legal mechanism by which low skilled workers can come and fill those positions. It doesn't exist,” added Foster, pointing out the irony of the outdated US immigration system that has failed to meet US economic demands and is now resulting in high levels of illegal immigration by economic migrants that the US economy needs. 

Learn more about these issues from the Rational Middle Podcast How Will the New Congress Handle Immigration? With Charles Foster below. Also check out the free Rational Middle of Immigration Video Docuseries that examines more issues associated with the US immigration system.​


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