Jayapal, AOC and progressive Democrats push ‘overhaul’ of US immigration system

Democrats pitch ‘bold, progressive, visionary north star for what humane immigration policy looks like’

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 27 January 2021 21:42

Related video: Construction halted on Trump's border wall

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A group of progressive Democrats in Congress is urging President Joe Biden to commit to immigration reform that not only rescinds Donald Trump’s draconian agenda but also follows a set of humane guiding principles for future policies.

US House Rep Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Progressive Caucus, has drafted a Roadmap to Freedom resolution with immigration advocates that outlines a “bold, progressive, visionary north star for what humane immigration policy looks like”, she told reporters on Wednesday.

The five-pronged resolution endorsed by more than 60 civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups centres on family unity, immigrants’ access to social services, protections for front line workers, ending police militarisation in border communities, and alternatives to detention and deportation.

“We are not simply reversing the hateful immigration policies of the last four years,” Rep Jayapal said.

The nation’s “racist, xenophobic immigration system has been broken for decades,” she added. “We need to finally leave the nation’s long history of criminalizing immigration and leaving families behind.”

President Biden’s sweeping immigration reform legislation aims to create a roadmap for citizenship for 11 million immigrants. He also has issued a series of executive orders striking at the core of his predecessor’s anti-immgration agenda – including a freeze on certain deportations, a reversal of the ban on travel from majority-Muslim countries and suspending construction of Mr Trump’s US-Mexico border wall project.

The president has also formally revoked the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy to prosecute immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without legal permission, which resulted in thousands of separated families and imprisoned children in 2018 before its suspension that year.

“We have been overdue for policy that actually realises the full potential of all people on our soil,” said New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

She said the US should recognise the “massive scale of human rights violations” under the previous administration as “not something we should sugarcoat or try to brush under the rug”.

“The US owes these families – whether in the form of guaranteed healthcare, whether in the form of expedited citizenship,” she said. “We owe these families for the rest of their lives, period, for the trauma inflicted on these families they will live with.”

Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, whose district encompasses El Paso, which has been at the epicentre of immigration reform debates, said that “vulnerable migrants have arrived at our front door only to be greeted by a government that has used cruelty as a deterrent”.

Rep Jayapal’s resolution would not establish or revoke immigration laws but create a framework for all future immigration-related policy that refocuses immigration enforcement around protecting vulnerable migrants rather than criminalising their entry.

The resolution recognizes an effort 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”.

It calls for “scalable civil consequences to immigration violations” relative to the actual offenses committed rather than relying on prosecutions, detentions and deportations.

“We should not criminalise people seeking refuge in our country and responding to the call for workers in this country,” Rep Jayapal said. “That is not the case now.”

Also among the resolution’s points: ensuring that “no person is removed, expelled or denied admission without guaranteed and meaningful access to legal defence”; ending the use of private, for-profit detention facilities; creating an Office of Migrant Protection and an Office of Immigrant Affairs; expediting cases for survivors of violence and trafficking; ensuring immigrants have work authorisation and labour protections, including safeguards against employer retaliation; and eliminating immigrants' barriers to public services, among other actions.

“We have never had a  public consciousness on the importance and critical values of immigrants in our country,” Rep Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s important to strike when the iron is hot.”

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