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 is the final post in a three-part series by Paul McDaniel examining the positions of the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, and Green parties and the perspectives in immigration of their presidential nominees, with some concluding thoughts on what these perspectives might mean for the future of immigration policy in the United States. Read Part I on the Republican perspective here and Part II on the Democrat perspective here.
The Libertarian Party and Gary Johnson
The Libertarian Party takes the approach that immigration law should reflect a —meaning that it should reflect the changing demands of an economy that changes over time. In discussing free trade and migration, the Libertarian Party’s 2016 platform states “political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries. Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders. However, we support control over the entry into our country of foreign nationals who pose a credible threat to security, health or property.”
The Libertarian Party’s statement on immigration, “Immigration Law Should Reflect Our Dynamic Labor Market,” provides broader insight into the party’s perspective on immigration law and policy. It asks whether the U.S. should strengthen efforts to enforce existing immigration law at all costs, or whether the U.S. should reform the immigration system to meet the reality of a dynamic labor market and society. With the latter in mind, the party suggests changing immigration law “to more closely conform to how millions of normal people actually live,” rather than spending billions on more enforcement of a broken system. The statement also observes that “crossing an international border to support your family and pursue dreams of a better life is not an inherently criminal act like rape or robbery … the large majority of illegal immigrants are not bad people. They are people who value family, faith and hard work trying to live within a bad system.”
Former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson, the 2016 Libertarian candidate for president, and Bill Weld, former Governor of Massachusetts and Libertarian candidate for vice president, state on their campaign website that building a wall or fence along the border and other punitive measures are simplistic solutions to problems caused by a system that doesn’t work for current realities. Specifically, they state that “the only thing a big wall will do is increase the size of the ladders, the depth of the tunnels, and the width of the divisions between us.” They suggest that the focus for immigration policy should be on “creating a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with our diverse society. Making it simpler and more efficient to enter the United States legally will provide greater security than a wall by allowing law enforcement to focus on those who threaten our country, not those who want to be a part of it.”
The Green Party and Jill Stein
The Green Party’s platform states that it “stands firmly for social justice for all those living in this country regardless of their immigration status. Above all, policy and law must be humane.” Regarding the current U.S. immigration system, the platform notes that “our current situation has created extreme social injustice.” People are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, immigration raids terrorize communities, and families are torn apart, their platform observes.
Unlike the other party platforms, the Green Party platform focuses on the social injustices our current system perpetuates and specifically states that immigration issues must be considered from an international perspective. This perspective must place emphasis on international labor and environmental standards, and human rights. This is an indication of the realization that U.S. immigration policy does not exist in a vacuum nor should it be formulated as such. Immigration to the U.S. is part of the broader context of international migration and restructuring economies and societies.
The platform proposes several specific immigration policies related to reform over time and interim measures that may be quickly implemented before policy reforms take place. Policy reform measures would include permanent border passes for citizens of Mexico and Canada whose identity can be verified; more easily obtainable and portable work permits to decriminalize the act of gainful employment and minimize the risk of exploitation; improvements to the refugee and asylee system to decrease arbitrary denial of asylum claims; putting priority on family reunification; and keeping faith with U.S. commitments to the United Nations regarding refugee resettlement.
While all of these suggestions may take time to implement, the platform proposes several interim measures, including: allow undocumented immigrants who can prove their identity to obtain drivers licenses; give legal status to undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school in the U.S. so they may apply for and attend college on an equal basis; reduce wait lists and backlogs by increasing current numeric visa caps; more vigorously enforce wage and labor laws to raise labor standards; oppose provisions that allow local law enforcement to become de facto immigration agents; oppose “English-only” legislation; oppose the militarization of U.S. borders including a southern border wall; support stronger policies to deal with victims of human trafficking and traffickers themselves; among others.
Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee for the 2016 presidential election, supports immigrants’ rights and creating a path to citizenship for immigrants, halting unnecessary deportations and detentions, and improving economic and social conditions abroad to stem the flow of refugees. Her position on the latter would partly involve repealing NAFTA, ending drug wars, and halting CIA and military interventions against democratically elected governments. In a statement on Facebook, Stein said “Our nation of immigrants needs a just immigration system that won’t allow the ruling elite to divide working people. That means halting deportations, passing the DREAM Act, and creating legal status and a path to citizenship for hard-working, law-abiding undocumented immigrants.” Dr. Stein chose as her vice-presidential running mate human rights activist Ajamu Baraka, who co-founded the U.S. Human Rights Network and has served on the boards of Amnesty International and other national and international human rights organizations.
When comparing the two major party platforms, we see that the Republic and Democratic platforms on immigration, and their respective nominees for President and Vice President, couldn’t be more different from one another. The Republic platform focuses on enforcement, and Donald Trump has made the topic of building a wall along the southern border one of the highlights of his campaign. The Republican platform also does something no major party platform has done in recent history: it proposes a reduction in legal immigration by stating “it is indefensible to continue offering lawful permanent residence to more than one million foreign nationals every year.”
The Democratic platform, on the other hand, focuses on humanitarian aspects of immigration and family unity, as does Hillary Clinton in her public pronouncements about immigration policy. It is more specific in describing the current U.S. immigration system as broken, which is the reason why previously there has been bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. The platform suggests continued support for the Obama Administration’s executive actions on immigration, but it also calls for ending “raids and roundups” of families and children and abolishing the use of private prisons, activities for which President Obama has received much criticism. The Libertarian platform takes the approach of decreasing the bureaucracy around immigration in order to make the system more efficient so that those who want to be a part of the U.S. economy and society may more readily do so. The Green Party platform approaches immigration from an international and social justice perspective, suggesting changes to alleviate the social injustices caused by our current system and structure.
Political party platforms are by no means binding documents for future legislation and the legislators and executive branch officials making legislation and policy. Yet they provide a vision for the direction a party, and its most active and vocal participants, would like to see the country proceed on different policy and issues areas. They serve as a guide for leaders affiliated with a particular party and thus provide insight into potential future legislative agendas. As the Migration Policy Institute notes, “a 2013 study published in201 the Journal of Political Science found that members of Congress historically have voted in accordance with their party platforms more than 80 per cent of the time.” Additionally, “since platforms are written by a coalition of party members, they are useful in gauging where party consensus lies.”
As for the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees themselves, their public statements about immigration and refugees and their past track record on action around immigration policy gives us clear insight into the types of ideas, policies, and procedures they would support and advocate for while in office.
Read the first installment here.
Read the second installment here.
Cover image: Jill Stein speaks at The People’s Convention, Philadelphia, July 2016. Photo credit Becker1999.