Nearly 16 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, and millions more have stopped looking for work. The labor-force participation rate—67 percent 20 years ago and 63.4 percent in January 2020—was down to 61.5 percent by last December. More than 26 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19, and countries around the world have closed their borders because of the pandemic. But the Biden administration appears to believe that what the United States needs now is a substantial increase in immigration, along with an amnesty for the millions of migrants here illegally.
President Biden has paused deportations for at least 100 days and issued a flurry of executive orders—halting construction of the border wall, reversing the so-called Muslim travel ban, bolstering Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), revoking the Trump administration’s plan to exclude noncitizens from the Census count, blocking the deportation of Liberians living in the U.S. illegally, and overturning a 2017 Trump executive order that facilitated expedited deportations. He also ended Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy that required asylum-seekers to wait outside the U.S. while their cases were adjudicated.
The White House released a four-page summary of Biden’s immigration bill, which calls for a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million migrants currently in the country illegally. The bill eliminates the “three- and ten-year bars” for re-entry for those who have been deported previously, effectively removing the only meaningful deterrent to breaking American immigration laws. The measure also increases quotas in several visa categories, including some guest-worker visas and Diversity Visas (the visa lottery), which would increase to 80,000 annually (from 55,000). Biden, who has placed a bust of Cesar Chavez in the Oval Office, is perhaps unaware that Chavez was a vocal critic of illegal immigration.
Biden and the Democrats are moving quickly on immigration to appease their base and mollify the business community, and because immigrants are a reliable voting bloc for their party. But millions of aspiring migrants are watching, too, and they tend to see the big picture, not the policy details. When I was a consular officer at American embassies overseas, we would often see a spike in visa applications whenever there was talk of broad amnesties.
Indeed, many migrants in the caravans heading north from Central America say that they’ve heard only that Biden wants to welcome more immigrants. One Honduran told Agence France-Presse, “I think that with this new president, things will change for a migrant who arrives without papers, because with Trump, we’re screwed.” Another Honduran told The Hill, “He’s going to help all of us, he’s giving us 100 days to get to the U.S. and give us [legal] papers.”
Biden and the Democrats also want to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and eliminate the $2.13 tipped employee minimum wage. In what world does it make sense to strip away border controls, halt construction of the border wall, remove bars and penalties for breaking the law—and then double the minimum wage? With millions of small businesses around the country struggling like never before, including thousands of restaurants, imagine how many desperate entrepreneurs will seek to hire illegal workers to avoid paying unskilled workers $15 per hour.
If you ask Americans of any color or political affiliation what the nation’s top priorities are right now, few will say “increasing immigration.” In late April 2020, a Washington Post/UMD poll indicated that 65 percent of Americans, including 49 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents, supported temporarily blocking nearly all immigration during the pandemic. In November, an IPSOS poll found that 67 percent of Americans supported keeping the borders closed until Covid-19 is “proven to be contained.” With the coronavirus still raging and the economy still reeling, there’s no reason to believe that these views will change appreciably.
The business community wants the best of both worlds: more legal immigration for skilled jobs and an open border to ensure a pipeline of “cheap labor” for unskilled jobs. One could make a case for admitting more highly skilled immigrants, but welcoming and encouraging waves of the poorly educated or unskilled makes no sense, especially in a pandemic. If Biden is serious about unifying the country, he should focus on putting Americans back to work, not importing more foreign competition into a tough job market.
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