Domestic Affairs

The Failure of U.S. Immigration Policy

The American ideals are perceived as freeing and opportunistic, as immigration is one of the prominent hallmarks of our democracy. Since 1776, immigrants have been an undeniably crucial aspect of our nation’s creation. However, the way our nation has dealt with immigration has left a stain on American history. From the racist Chinese Exclusion laws and European-favoring Quota laws of the 1920s to increased hostility towards asylum seekers and migrants from Latin America via militia groups patrolling the southern border, immigration in America has always fallen short of its promise. Administrations from both parties have consistently failed to acknowledge the humanity of immigration laws—and presently, we are still continuing a dangerous legacy of xenophobic and inhumane immigration policy. 

Most scholars argue that since the enactment of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, America’s borders have been more open than ever before by removing unfair quotas that favor Western European migration. Furthermore, this law had substantial effects on the demographics of American immigrants as it increased the number of people emigrating from China, India, Japan, and the Philippines. The Act represented the U.S. taking a step in the right direction, especially in the aftermath of pursuing xenophobic policies during the 1920s and 1930s. Nevertheless, problems with immigration still persisted and began to flare up at the end of the century. 

While Ronald Reagan vowed to crack down on the problem of “illegal immigration” from the southern border, it wasn’t until his Democratic successor, Bill Clinton, took office that structural changes took place in U.S. immigration policy. Once President Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, the border between the U.S. and Mexico became far more militarized and a point of contention. The bill, drafted under the guise that illegal immigrants posed a threat to American citizens, created a fast-track system for deportation that both made it more difficult for asylum and for unauthorized workers to defend themselves against removal. 

As a result, America took a step backward in fair and humane treatment for migrants and established a new status quo on immigration. The status quo moved away from the rhetoric of leaders like Lyndon B. Johnson, who expanded immigration with the 1965 law under the pretext that America was not a nativist country, to leaders like Clinton, who chose to crack down on migrants for political leverage. Consequently, the more recent administrations also have largely shied away from providing an equitable and inclusive solution to this pressing issue such as the governments of Presidents Bush and Obama, who deported millions of migrants despite promising and failing to deliver on landmark immigration reform. Although it is important to note Obama’s attempt to create a more compassionate immigration policy through his implementation of DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, the status quo largely remained the same. The program, created by executive order, was doomed from the start as any President could overturn the program based on their partisan ideology, just as President Trump did. If anything, DACA has only acted as a temporary fix to a much larger problem of the U.S. continuing the fear-mongering and xenophobic attitudes present in statements referring to under-developed nations as “shithole countries” and inaugural addresses aimed at scapegoating unauthorized workers for economic turmoil

While Trump’s child separation policy gained significant backlash and brought national attention to immigration, not much changed after the inauguration of President Biden. Despite his pledges to reform and “Build Back Better,” the President has continued the enforcement of Title 42, an archaic component of immigration law that halts the process for asylum if the spread of a deadly contagion is a threat. The federal statute was, in fact, enacted only to fulfill Trump’s hardline immigration policies and most public health experts agree there is no need to expel refugees or asylum seekers. As the vaccination rate increases and America opens up its border with other countries, it would only be fair to extend the same treatment to migrants seeking asylum.

By continuing a Trump-era policy inconsistent with international asylum law, President Biden is continuing a reckless legacy of nativist immigration policy. While there still is time for Biden to correct this, history has proven that most Presidents shy away from seeking a humane solution to this pivotal issue. Until we as a society choose to approach immigration from a humanitarian point of view, our country will continue to deny the rights of asylum seekers and migrants regardless of whichever political party is in power.

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