The Biden Victory and Immigration Policy

Blog Post, Nicholas V. Montalto, Coordinator, NJBIC, November 9, 2020….

The election of Joe Biden marks a major turning point in the history of immigration policy in the United States.  His immigration plan, which has six broad objectives outlined below, appears to reflect his commitment to the goal of immigration reform. The objectives are:

  1. Undoing many of the actions taken by the Trump administration,
  2. Modernizing the overall immigration system,
  3. Promoting welcoming policies in local communities,
  4. Reasserting the nation’s commitment to refugees and asylees,
  5. Tackling the root causes of irregular migration, and
  6. Implementing effective border screening.

Although many of these goals will garner strong support from the business community, progress in many of these areas will require the revival of a bipartisan approach to immigration reform, especially if the Senate remains under Republican control. This will be no easy task, as the parties have drifted far apart on immigration-related issues. Some have described the division as a “study in contrasts,” a “schism,” and a “giant policy vacuum.”

Fifteen years ago, this wasn’t the case. Roughly the same percentage of Democrats (47 percent) and Republicans (46 percent) said that immigrants strengthened the country. Republicans and Democrats even came close to passing bipartisan immigration reform in 2013, but House Republican leadership declined to bring up the Senate-passed bill, even though a clear majority in the chamber supported it. The political ascendency of Donald Trump in 2016 changed the playing field completely. Immigration, laced with a heavy dose of xenophobia, became a wedge issue that enabled Donald Trump to win the presidency. By 2019, 83 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Republicans agreed with the idea that immigration strengthened the country – a 45 percentage point difference, but only a 7 point drop among Republicans.

It remains to be seen how much of the Biden immigration agenda will be implemented. Certainly, the pandemic has had a profound impact on the labor market, perhaps requiring a rethink of existing policy proposals.  Yet the economic fundamentals are not likely to change: a shrinking workforce and labor shortages in many sectors of the economy. The NJ Business Immigration Coalition, with its commitment to the revival of a bipartisan approach to immigration reform, will be a voice for constructive change in the policy debates to come.