If there’s one thing that President Biden has made abundantly clear, it’s that he will grant an amnesty to an unknown number of illegal immigrants.
Not a single individual knows what the exact illegal immigrant population is, and that’s the first problem that the new Biden administration faces. Nevertheless, Biden has made immigration his chief legislative priority.
Biden has repeatedly referred to the alien population as 11 million, a total that’s plenty big enough. But others, perhaps closer to the ground than the new president, have put the alien total at more than 20 million.
From an administrative perspective, a 9 million difference is huge. To qualify for Biden’s amnesty, which The Washington Post reported as an eight-year path to citizenship that begins with a five-year temporary legal status, followed by Green Card issuance pending background check and tax reviews, aliens must have resided in the U.S. by Jan. 1, 2021.
Millions of background checks and tax reviews will be an insurmountable task for immigration officials, and ones from which they’ll quickly seek relief, i.e., an expedited approval process. President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which then Sen. Biden voted against, covered a comparatively modest 2.7 million aliens.
Many amnesty hopefuls won’t have official government identification. Biden’s final legislation may end up designating (in cautiously worded language) rent receipts, utility bills, school enrollment forms or even library cards as adequate residency proof. But if more substantive IDs are mandated, the applicants might end up paying underground counterfeiters to obtain high quality, but still phony, documents to confirm their amnesty eligibility.
Biden’s plan offers much more to migrants - expanded refugee resettlement, looser asylum guidelines and more immediate citizenship to Temporary Protected Status holders. For aliens and other migrants who may not have had employment authorization before, Biden’s plan will include it. Millions of new workers will enter a workforce that has about 25 million unemployed or underemployed Americans.
Conspicuously missing from Biden’s expansive immigration plan is an olive branch for congressional Republicans and the millions of Americans opposed to an outright amnesty gift. Biden could learn something from Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act, which offered a bone to its detractors.
First, employers had to attest to the legality of their workforce. Hiring or recruiting illegal aliens, allowed pre-1986, was barred and should have weaned employers off cheap labor. And to ensure that employers followed the new law, Congress promised stronger interior and border enforcement. Within just a few years, those promises were broken, and Reagan’s act was on its way to becoming the amnesty that’s remembered as a failure: Congress delivered amnesty, but reneged on enforcement.
Few who favor commonsense immigration - that is, a policy that works for native-born and immigrants alike - are swayed by Biden’s commitment to study the causes of migration and work to solve them. Those are familiar, but empty, words. In 2015, President Barack Obama sent Biden to Central America to resolve what the Associated Press described as a “migrant crisis.” Today, nearly six years later, Central Americans migrants continue to head north.
Biden has more than amnesty on his immediate agenda. He hopes to reinstate a program that grants temporary legal residence to Central American minors. He also wants to set up a reunification program for Central American relatives of U.S. citizens that would expedite their admission.
If Biden’s immigration dreams become a reality, Americans workers will have millions more to compete with in a tough labor market.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.