Immigrant workers harvest beans in May in Homestead, Florida.

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Published — October 9, 2020

A Biden presidency would mean ‘unwinding Trump’ on immigration policy

Workers harvest beans in May in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Public Integrity found that an estimated 69% of the county’s front-line farm and food-production workers there are non-U.S. citizens, some of whom are undocumented. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)


Millions of them aren’t U.S. citizens and can’t vote. But immigrants who’ve lived and worked here for decades have a great stake in who is elected president next month.

The outcome matters to undocumented immigrants who work in various jobs nationwide, including performing essential work such as food production, and are fearful of deportation and COVID-19. “Dreamers” brought here as children and hundreds of thousands of others with Temporary Protected Status also live in fear as President Donald Trump moves to revoke their protections. Hurling insults at Latino immigrants and labeling them a fiscal drain, Trump has blocked asylum seekers and slashed refugee admissions. He’s tried to pressure Congress to cut family-sponsored legal immigration, arguing that too many immigrants are from nations he’s referred to as “s–thole countries.”

What will Trump do if he wins? And what will Democratic rival Joe Biden do if he’s elected president? What impact will the pandemic have?

Immigration expert and attorney Muzaffar Chishti with the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute co-authored an analysis outlining the candidates’ immigration agendas. Trump has already “built a wall without brick or mortar” by issuing more than 400 executive orders related to immigration, Chishti told the Center for Public Integrity.

Expect more if he’s re-elected.

Chishti said Trump wants to deport immigrants seeking legal permanent status if officials, using tough new criteria, suspect applicants could possibly apply for public aid in the future. Trump also wants to tighten screenings that would make it easier to turn away asylum seekers who invoke the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which bars deportation of people who could face mortal danger back in their home countries.

Biden, Chishti said, would immediately focus on “unwinding Trump,” by restoring the Deferred Deportation for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides Dreamers with work permits and a shield from deportation. He would also restore Temporary Protected Status, which provides similar protections to hundreds of thousands of mostly Central American and Haitian immigrants who’ve been here for years with no path to permanent legal status.

DACA students celebrate after it rejected President Donald Trump's effort to end the administration's immigration policy of legal protections for young immigrants.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students celebrate in front of the Supreme Court after it rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end legal protections for young immigrants. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Biden is promising to set priorities for deportations, targeting only serious criminals; end for-profit immigration detention; hold Homeland Security accountable for abuses; raise annual caps on the number of refugees admitted to the country; restore a “fair” asylum process; and invest in programs to stabilize Central America, perhaps including temporary visas so people in the region can apply to work in the United States legally.

Biden supports giving longtime undocumented farmworkers a path toward citizenship, while Trump — whose businesses employ temporary foreign workers — vows to provide agribusiness with more seasonal workers who have no path to legal immigrant visas. Biden says he would work with Congress to urge the creation of a path to legal status for other longtime undocumented immigrants. While some Republicans have historically supported such proposals, he’d find a Democratic-controlled Congress far more cooperative in passing legislation.

But like the 9/11 terror attacks and the 2008 recession, Chishti said, the pandemic’s death toll and economic destruction is the type of crisis that can make politicians hesitate to appear to be helping undocumented immigrants. But a Public Integrity poll and other surveys show enduring support for legalization. And the pandemic could boost support for workers who’ve risked their health to produce food and perform other essential jobs.

“COVID has taught us,” Chishti said, “that these essential workers really matter to us.”

Read more in Inside Public Integrity

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