EDITORIAL:

Biden’s immigration proposal is as compassionate as it is pragmatic

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Evan Vucci / AP

President Joe Biden stands on stage during a break in a televised town hall event at Pabst Theater, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Milwaukee.

Sensible immigration policies have always enriched America. The people risking everything to leave their homes for a new life tend to be the bravest, most creative and hardest-working people in the nations from which they come.

They thrive here because of the traits they bring. And our economy thrives because of immigrant workers — without them, food shelves aren’t stocked and entire industries are imperiled. And of course, there are the humanitarian issues too.

For the hundreds of refugees languishing in a tent city in Matamoros, Mexico, Feb. 15 was a very bad day.

The deep freeze that paralyzed Texas to their immediate north crept into the border town, driving temperatures into the lower 20s and pelting the camp with freezing rain. Enduring the same power outages that affected millions of Texans, the migrants shivered through the night and emerged at sunrise to see icicles hanging from their tarps.

“Everything froze — the water we cook with, even clothes became stiff with ice,” one man told Reuters.

The refugees in Matamoros faced a stark choice: go home to unstable countries and be marked for death, or risk freezing to death on our border as they prayed for a more enlightened U.S. immigration policy.

We’re a better nation than this: We can and should create an immigration system that strengthens our workforce and economy while also being more humane.

President Joe Biden’s immigration plan, which was introduced in Congress last week, would put us well down that path.With his bill and his use of executive orders, Biden is supporting an essential class of American workers, addressing border security, and getting at the root cause of the overflow of migrants from Northern Triangle countries by providing aid to Central America. The bill would also extend more compassionate treatment to both migrants and immigrants already living in the U.S.

The bill, titled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, includes the following elements:

• The ability to immediately apply for a green card for farmworkers, migrants who’ve received Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Dreamers, or individuals who were brought here as children in families of undocumented immigrants. After three years, those individuals would be able to apply for citizenship. Other immigrants could apply for temporary legal status with the ability to seek a green card after five years. Three years after that, those individuals could apply for citizenship.

• Lowering bureaucratic hurdles for asylum seekers and providing more staffing for immigrant services to deal with backlogs for requests for green cards, TPS, etc. If legal immigration processes are more efficient, it helps to prevent the desperation that leads to illegal immigration.

• An expansion of worker visas, designed to allow more foreigners to enter the United States for jobs. This is essential for U.S. businesses reliant upon foreign workers and suffering from workforce crises under the regressive policies of the prior administration.

• Providing a to-be-determined amount of funding to improve border security. The funding would go toward improving infrastructure at ports of entry, screening technology, officer training and improved detection/surveillance technology that would be an alternative to a border wall.

• Allocating $4 billion over four years for programs to curb violence and corruption in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Also, new processing centers would be established in the Northern Triangle to register qualified migrants as refugees and allow them to resettle in the U.S. This approach is crucial as it seeks to stem refugee flow by helping to stabilize their countries.

Improvements like these are long overdue and provide a much-needed repudiation of the draconian immigration policies of the past four years.

Unfortunately, with Republican Party leadership still choosing to fan flames of anti-immigrant racism in a disgusting play for votes among extremists, the bill faces challenges in Congress. It’s been described as too ambitious in the fiercely polarized political environment on the issue.

But it’s actually a pragmatic policy that will benefit the U.S. in ways that the GOP should appreciate.

Providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who work in U.S. industries that need workers, stay out of trouble and pay taxes will do nothing but strengthen our workforce, improve our economy and make our communities stronger. Allowing a greater number of foreigners to obtain visas will fuel innovation and productivity.

On the other side of the coin, Biden’s more strategic and modern approach to border security beats a wall that consumed upwards of $15 billion of taxpayer money yet was cut with inexpensive saws and scaled with simple rope ladders. Meanwhile, the investment in Central America is another form of playing defense, by addressing the security and economic crises that are causing residents of the region to flee to the U.S.

Immigration advocates have hailed Biden’s vision, and with good reason. It would re-establish compassion and sanity to the immigration system, and would restore the U.S. as a global beacon of freedom for individuals escaping violence and persecution, or simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

The bill is a picture of good governance. It covers the bases, offers a workable solution and is reflective of the nation’s values.