The Biden administration made a show of proposing sweeping legislation that would legalize virtually all illegal aliens and enact a variety of measures to weaken immigration enforcement and increase legal immigration beyond the current level of about 1 million a year. This was no vague statement of principles—congressional staff received a fifty-nine-page, section-by-section summary of the bill.
In the midst of a devastating pandemic, a wrenching economic slowdown, and political instability, the White House signaled that its top priority is amnesty for illegal aliens.
But the bill has yet to be actually introduced in Congress. And it may never be.
That’s because, with an almost evenly divided Congress, it has no chance of passage. The bill was proposed on the president’s first day in office to satisfy a campaign pledge and as a gesture of solidarity with the party’s most radical anti-borders activists.
This is not to say there will be no congressional push for the tripartite immigration goals of the left (and its corporate and libertarian fellow-travelers): amnesty, hobbled enforcement, and more immigration. But the administration, congressional Democrats, and activists confessed to Politico recently that a series of smaller measures is more likely.
Or perhaps that should be “smaller”—because the downsized amnesties Democrats are likely to actually push are not small. They would give legal status to three, four, or even five million illegal aliens, more than were amnestied by the infamous 1986 law that was supposed to be a one-time measure. The Democrats’ priority-one illegals, as it were, include:
1. Adults who came as minors—the so-called Dreamers, including that subset who received DACA, the Obama administration’s amnesty-lite program to provide work permits and Social Security numbers, but not a path to citizenship;
2. Recipients of various “temporary,” but repeatedly renewed, statuses (TPS and DED), granted to people already here illegally when some sort of natural or man-made disaster strikes their home countries. Like the DACA recipients, these people have the meat and potatoes of amnesty—work permits and Social Security numbers—but only through statute can they get the dessert of a green card and eventual citizenship;
3. So-called “essential workers” such as farm workers.
While ten Republicans could probably be found in the Senate to back some of these measures, even the most pusillanimous among them would demand some kind of meaningful strengthening of enforcement in return.
“Meaningful” is the operative word here; the days of giving the Border Patrol a few drones and calling it enforcement are over. For proposals that would legalize one-third to one-half of the illegal population to have any hope of gaining traction, they would have to include, at least, things like mandatory use of E-Verify (the online system to check the legal status of new hires is currently voluntary), and a prohibition on state and local sanctuary policies that shield foreign-national criminals from the immigration consequences of their law-breaking.
The radicalization of even the mainstream Left on immigration makes such concessions—routine in prior amnesty proposals—unthinkable now.
So, if Congress is likely to be the source of sound and fury signifying nothing on immigration, what is in the cards? Executive actions.
President Joe Biden is following in the footsteps of his two predecessors by focusing on the use of executive authority to make what changes he can. He has decreed an ostensibly temporary ban on deportations—though Republicans, having learned from the last four years of relentless lawfare against Trump, have succeeded for now in getting a federal judge to temporarily put that decree on hold.
Biden also lifted the so-called “Muslim ban,” which was, in reality, a qualified prohibition on visa issuance to citizens of countries (not all of them majority Muslim) whose governments are unable or unwilling to provide us information to allow the visa applicants to be vetted.
A third decree, like the others issued on the new president’s first day in office, halted construction on the border wall. This has left gaps in the fence, contracts in limbo, and stacks of expensive building materials piled up on the ground.
More decrees are expected, including a dramatic increase in refugee admissions; a move to make it easier for people likely to be dependent on welfare to get green cards; and a rollback of Trump administration rules designed to make it harder to use a mere claim of asylum as a gambit to gain release into the United States.
These would pale next to what the White House might do if Democrats figure they’re going to lose Congress anyway in 2022 and decide to go for broke. In that case, it’s possible the president would unilaterally extend a meat-and-potatoes amnesty of work permits and Social Security numbers to the entire illegal population through one of two ploys: grant either Temporary Protected Status or parole in place to all illegals and try to create facts on the ground that incoming Republicans would have a hard time reversing. While lawsuits in response would be inevitable, judges are sure to be less hostile toward Biden’s executive actions than Trump’s.
With an oversupply of other news, 2020 didn’t see a lot of activity on immigration. That’s likely to change this year.
Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkSKrikorian.