Progressive Immigration Reform On The Horizon

Posted by Matthew Green | Jan 09, 2021 | 0 Comments

Immigration reform can be approached a number of ways.  It can be approached with severity and restriction, as it was under the Trump administration.  Or it can be approached with a commitment to welcoming immigrants and restoring “America's moral leadership,” which is what can be expected of the new administration under Joe Biden. 

In fact, President-elect Biden has promised to “take urgent action to undo Trump's damage and reclaim America's value.” His campaign website outlines just what “urgent action” will take place within and beyond the first hundred days of the presidency.  In addition to the promises Biden made in his campaign, two other encouraging initiatives to reform the immigration system are circulating: the “Roadmap to Freedom” and Cato Institute Proposals.

Biden's Key Promises

Immigration reform will be prioritized in the upcoming administration and Biden has committed to enforcing policy changes straightaway.   Some of the key promises made in his campaign include:

  • Immediately reversal of the Trump Administration's policies that separate parents from their children at our border.
  • End Trump's asylum policies. 
  • End prolonged detention and reinvest in a case management program.
  • Reverse Trump's public charge rule
  • End the so-called National Emergency that siphons federal dollars from the Department of Defense to build a wall.
  • Protect Dreamers and their families.
  • Rescind the so-called “Muslim bans.”
  • Order an immediate review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for vulnerable populations who cannot find safety in their countries ripped apart by violence or disaster.
  • Ensure that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel abide by professional standards and are held accountable for inhumane treatment.

You can read more about what is to come in our post, Immigration Under Biden: What to Expect in the First 100 Days.

“Road to Freedom”

Progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives have developed the “Road to Freedom,” a reform effort to be introduced by Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional.  The resolution is co-sponsored by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Yvette Clarke of New York, Judy Chu of California, Jesús García of Illinois, and Veronica Escobar of Texas and was drafted in collaboration with immigrant advocates.  Its approach is sweeping and comprehensive; it is to be the “gold standard” for measuring immigration reforms made under the new administration.

The resolution makes this clear from its first sentence, in which it recognizes that “it is the duty of the Federal Government to develop and implement a Roadmap to Freedom in order to overhaul the outdated immigration system in the United States that has gone without significant reform for decades, and to relieve the great human impact an unjust system bears on communities around the country.” As Forbes reports, its demands include:

  • Creating a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 10.5 million undocumented immigrants.
  • Clearing the existing backlog of naturalization applications.
  • Prioritizing family unity by eliminating barriers to family reunification and creating a process “for eligible individuals who are deported, detained, or in sanctuary” to reunite with their families and return to the United States.
  • Establishing a system of “scalable civil consequences to immigration violations” so that detention and deportation are not the default punishment for almost every infraction of immigration law.
  • Eliminating for-profit immigration detention facilities.
  • Ending the use of state and local prisons and jails for immigration detention.
  • Promoting alternatives to detention and ending the detention of “vulnerable populations” such as families and children.
  • Ensuring that “no person is removed, expelled, or denied admission [to the United States] without guaranteed and meaningful access to legal defense.”
  • Creating an “independent Immigration Court system” in which judges can exercise discretion.
  • Reinventing border policies by “reversing the flow of money into harmful border walls, barriers, and ‘virtual walls'” that militarize the border and violate civil rights and liberties.
  • Ending Border Patrol checkpoints in the interior of the country.
  • Ensuring that “all people who are recruited to meet verifiable labor market needs are able to change employers, bring and live with their families, and earn a roadmap to citizenship.”
  • Ensuring “immigrants' access to health care and housing.”
  • Creating “a truth and reconciliation process to provide justice to those who have suffered under an inhumane system for decades.”

The Roadmap is more expansive than Biden's proposals but the two do share common ground.  Roxana Norouzi, deputy director of OneAmerica Votes, contributed to the development of the resolution. In a statement made to Vox, she said that “Whatever proposal comes out of the Biden administration in the first 100 days, we will use this resolution to measure the gap.”

The Cato Institute Proposals

The Cato Institute is a non-partisan public policy research organization dedicated to “the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.” It has published a compilation of essays by leading legal scholars arguing for immigration reform that extends beyond the reversal of Trump administration policies.  David J. Bier, editor of the compilation, presents this description of the proposals: “They argue that the rules were already too restrictive before President Trump tightened them to unprecedented levels and lay out authorities that President Biden can use to make life easier for legal immigrants.” 

The lead essay is by Ira Kurzban, a prominent immigration attorney and author of the country's most widely used one-volume immigration source.  It focuses on the significant backlogs created as a result of the low green card caps set in 1990.  By ending its policy of counting spouses and minor children of immigrants against the employment, family, and diversity green card caps, the State Department would be able to prevent decades-long waits and increase legal immigration by the thousands.

Following this proposal are over two dozen other ideas on how to help immigrants in the United States.  There are, for example, the ones made by Amy M. Nice and Cyrus D. Mehta.  Nice, a former Attorney Advisor in the Office of the General Counsel at DHS headquarters, argues that the State Department should “recapture” green cards left unused under the caps because the agency failed to issue them.  Mehta, a practicing attorney and authority on immigration, contends that “even if it must limit green card approvals, the government should stop limiting green card filings when the cap is unfilled.” Simply having a pending application can provide benefits to immigrants. Ultimately, the compilation presents more than ideas: it offers specialized legal arguments and a blueprint for action.  Be it through the Biden administration, the Road to Freedom, or through proposals like those developed by Cato authors, there lies ahead great potential for immigration reform—for a system that no longer harms but instead helps and supports the millions of immigrants and Americans living in our country. 

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly Law Offices of Matthew H. Green) focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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