In the run up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States, there are drastic differences in the tone and approach toward immigration by the major political parties and their nominees. But what exactly are some of their proposals for changes to U.S. immigration policy? This post is the second in a three-part series by Paul McDaniel examining the positions of the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, and Green parties and the perspectives on immigration of their presidential nominees. Read Part I on the Republican perspective here.
In stark contrast to the Republican Party Platform, the 2016 Democratic Party Platform generally takes a more pragmatic and humanitarian approach to immigration and refugee policy, viewing immigration as an opportunity to embrace rather than only a problem to solve. The platform supports legal immigration that meets the needs of families, communities and the economy, and “maintains the United States’ role as a beacon of hope for people seeking safety, freedom, and security,” while acknowledging problems in our current immigration system due to outdated laws out of step with current realities.
Specifically, the platform notes that the current system separates families and makes it harder for immigrants to integrate into society. It proposes specific policy fixes as well as comprehensive immigration reform to upgrade the U.S. immigration system to meet the realities of the twenty-first century, including addressing the immigration visa backlogs to reunite families and repealing the three and ten-year and permanent bars, which also currently lead to dilemmas of long-term family separation. The platform also commits to protecting DACA, and making further efforts to implement DAPA and other executive actions on immigration. Indeed, the protection of children and minors is of prominent concern in the platform: “We must take particular care with children, which is why we should guarantee government-funded counsel for unaccompanied children in immigration courts. We should consider all available means of protecting these individuals from the threats to their lives and safety — including strengthening in-country and third-country processing, expanding the use of humanitarian parole, and granting Temporary Protected Status.”
Regarding immigration enforcement, the platform states it must be “humane and consistent with our values. We should prioritize those who pose a threat to the safety of our communities, not hardworking families who are contributing to their communities. We will end raids and roundups of children and families, which unnecessarily sow fear in immigrant communities. We disfavor deportations of immigrants who served in our armed forces, and we want to create a faster path for such veterans to citizenship.” It also suggests promoting best practices among local law enforcement to strengthen trust among the communities they serve. Another idea involves ending federal, state, and municipal contracts with for-profit private prisons and private detention centers, suggesting “in order to end family detention, we will ensure humane alternatives for those who pose no public threat.” The platform further recognizes that “there are vulnerable communities within our immigration system who are often seeking refuge from persecution abroad, such as LGBT families, for whom detention can be unacceptably dangerous.”
While the above actions would help processes of immigrant integration, the platform also specifically addresses immigrant integration at the sub-national level: “We will support efforts by states to make DREAMers eligible for driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition. We will invest in culturally-appropriate immigrant integration services, expand access to English language education, and promote naturalization to help the millions of people who are eligible for citizenship take that last step.”
Additionally, concurrent with the Democratic National Convention, a forum on immigration policy was held in Philadelphia. In the discussion, the mayors of New York City, Philadelphia, and Phoenix, along with business (Pacific Gas and Electric) and non-profit leaders (Welcoming America and Voto Latino), made the case for why cities benefit from welcoming immigrants and encouraging integration.
In her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, said, “I believe that when we have millions of hardworking immigrants contributing to our economy, it would be self-defeating to kick them out. Comprehensive immigration reform will grow our economy and keep families together—and it’s the right thing to do.”
Clinton, a former Secretary of State and former Senator, has an established record of supporting comprehensive immigration reform and strategies that would encourage immigrant and refugee integration. Her remarks to the National Immigrant Integration Conference last December are one example: “We are a big country and we should never forget that and we shouldn’t let anybody on the public stage say that we are mean spirited, that we are going to build walls, mentally and physically, or that we are going to shut doors. We are a country where people of all backgrounds, all nations of origin, all languages, all religions, all races, can make a home. America was built by immigrants, and you know so well our economy depends on immigrants. Our future will be always written in part by immigrants.”
Clinton’s vision for immigration reform includes reform that is “truly comprehensive, addressing all aspects of the system, including immigrants living here today, those who wish to come in the days ahead, from highly skilled workers to family members to those seeking refuge from violence wherever that might occur.” She has committed to sending a proposal to Congress that would include a path to citizenship, repair the family visa backlog, strengthen the economy, which research shows comprehensive reform would do, and make it easier for people to start new businesses and apply their talents to U.S. growth and innovation. And she has committed to ending family detention and use of for-profit private prisons. As she noted, “too many children in our country say goodbye to their parents every morning not knowing if mom and dad will be there when we get home.”
The Democrat’s Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine, has an established track record of supporting immigration reform and has also been vocal against an enforcement-only approach. In the past, he spoke against Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation, he supported the DREAM Act and voted yes on S. 744, the last comprehensive immigration reform bill to pass the Senate. Kaine has also spoken in support of DACA, noting that the program has “allowed young people to contribute to our communities, live without constant fear of deportation, keep families together and provide economic and educational opportunities.”
The Clinton/Kaine 2016 campaign website outlines specific policy proposals for many issues areas, including immigration. The immigration reform proposals from their campaign are in alignment with those in the Democratic Party platform, many of which would strengthen processes of immigrant and refugee integration. An additional point of note is that some of the ideas on immigration from Sen. Bernie Sanders, who prior to the convention was the other significant contender for the Democratic nomination for President, also appear in the Democratic Party platform.
The final instalment of this 3-part series will examine the positions on immigration of the Libertarian and Green parties, and reflect on immigration in electoral discourse in 2016. Read the first instalment here.