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How immigration reform will impact the 2024 race

A new citizen holds the America flag during a Naturalization Ceremony at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
A new citizen holds the America flag during a Naturalization Ceremony at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Indianapolis.

With Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s (R) recent presidential campaign announcements, the 2024 presidential race is heating up. Former President Donald Trump as well as former South Carolina Governor and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley have already announced.

On the Democratic side, it’s probable President Joe Biden will seek renomination. At the onset of campaign season, both sides will be developing their vision for the United States — and few issues will be more difficult than immigration. Most polls show immigration is a top issue on the minds of Americans along with inflation and abortion. Thus, politicians on both sides of the aisle will be presenting their plans on immigration. But a plan that’s time has come on immigration is actually no plan at all. Instead, what America needs is a leader who will come up with an immigration strategy.

At first blush, the issue of immigration would be one that most candidates would want to avoid. Immigration is full of pitfalls, controversy and there aren’t any easy solutions. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tried to be a leader on immigration in the 2010s and the Republican Party’s rejection of his efforts were so strong he was forced to apologize. He hasn’t touched on the issue since. Calls for reform have been met with hostility for the past 30 years.

The crisis at the border is, in large part, because our legal immigration system is fundamentally broken. For the millions of people who attempt to go through the legal immigration system, they are met with:

  • Backlogs that will have some waiting 150 years to become permanent residents
  • A backlog of more than 1 million work permits
  • A global lack of visa interview availability to even come to the United States
  • A  system that ridiculously allows for only 140,000 employment-based green cards per year in a nation with millions of job openings

Because our legal immigration system does not work, millions of migrants are claiming asylum on a large scale as their only means of getting permission to live and work in the United States. We have not had immigration reform since the 1990s and instead of trying, we are effectively shoehorning a 1990 immigration system onto 2023 America.

Through this lens, the crisis at the border is essentially a crisis of leadership. The last few presidents have gravitated between indifference to hostility to immigration with no president truly attempting to forge consensus and risk political capital on the matter.

America needs a leader in the mold of a Theodore Roosevelt, a Lyndon B. Johnson or a Ronald Reagan to break through the logjam. Instead of meeting this moment though, most politicians today resort to scapegoating, name-calling and base-friendly one-liners fed to them by political hacks and consultants. Unfortunately for them, and more unfortunate for us, America will not gimmick and insult our way out of this issue.  

Can any of these presidential candidates be different? Not only should they be, but it may also be their only way to win their primary and the general election. Democrats and Republicans may take different stances on immigration policies, but one thing they agree on is that reform is long overdue. Americans should demand less of an immigration plan but more of an immigration strategy. A plan is something that be rejected outright, ignored or picked apart. Trump had a plan. Same for Biden. Neither of their immigration plans were passed nor really entertained by Congress.

Instead, a presidential campaign should commit to adopting a comprehensive immigration strategy. They should promise to do what neither Biden nor Trump bothered to do: meet with members of the opposing party to find common ground in a serious manner. They could pledge to work with Republicans and Democrats and meet governors where they are to push for workable solutions. They will need to tell both parties that any reform will have parts neither will like.

Reforming our asylum laws while increasing legal immigration and funding for border security could be the skeletal framework for any agreement.

Whether it’s one large, comprehensive immigration reform package or passage of smaller, more popular proposals first, an immigration strategy and a seriousness on the issue can differentiate them from all the candidates running for president.

While working with Congress directly, the campaign should pledge innovative administrative reforms to make legal immigration faster. The presidency has wide influence over the course of legal immigration — as Trump, and his over 400 immigration rule changes, can attest. The campaign could implement bold ideas such as eliminating paper-only filing systems from the immigration system, exempting dependents and children from the visa limitations, conducting interviews for visa applicants remotely or waiving them outright for low-risk immigrants, and leaning far more on technology to rapidly screen and process cases. More processed and vetted migrants mean less pressure on both the border and the labor market.

When presidential candidates look to the past for leadership, Democrat or Republican, they often look to George Washington. Washington was a strong supporter of immigration arguing that “the bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and religions.” If presidential candidates want to uphold the duties of the same prestigious office that Washington held, they will need to live up to this moment when America cries out desperately for leadership.  

Chris Richardson is a former U.S. diplomat, attorney and co-founder of Argo Visa. He is a leading expert on immigration policy. Richardson served in Nigeria, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Spain as a U.S. diplomat. Richardson resigned in protest due to President Trump’s policy dubbed the “Muslim ban” and the former president’s derogatory statements about African countries. He has advised both Democratic and Republican members of Congress and their staffers in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate on critical immigration and foreign policy issues.

Tags 2024 election Asa Hutchinson Citizenship Donald Trump Donald Trump economy Immigration Joe Biden Joe Biden Marco Rubio Politics Tim Scott United States White House workforce

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