The war on immigration must end

The war on immigration must end
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For years, the government has been paralyzed in its efforts to reform the United States immigration system. Successive “gangs” of top lawmakers in Congress tried and failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The repeated failures led President Obama to try and fix a dysfunctional system by executive order, unilaterally creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while increasing deportations.

Emboldened by that executive branch precedent and political paralysis in Congress, President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE has launched efforts to reshape the weakened immigration system into one more hostile to all immigrants. The fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has now provided the administration perfect cover for accelerating that campaign.

In the spring, the administration banned certain employment and family member immigrants from entering the United States for 60 days under the guise of ensuring that American workers would have first access to jobs in a rebounding economy. A second proclamation quickly followed extending the provisions of the first, this time also banning those highly skilled workers with visas from entry for the rest of the year.


The latest attack came with the announcement that international students whose colleges and universities decide to teach online only courses must return to their home countries or else switch to another institution which offers in person instruction. After intense blowback and lawsuits, however, the administration rescinded that punitive policy this week, but no person should assume that setback will end the war on immigration.

These efforts are not theoretical to me. When I started college in 2008, I was legally living in the United States as the dependent of my immigrant parents, but I attended university and graduate school as an international student. So if I had been a student today, I would have spent the last week agonizing over a choice between the lesser of several evils. I could risk my health to attend classes in person, transfer to another school with only six weeks until the start of the semester, or cross the Atlantic with a complex web of travel restrictions to return to the country of my birth.

I would have been facing a forced return to a country in which I had lived for less than a year, whose language I do not speak, and with no place to call home. Indeed, this is the nightmare that thousands of young people woke up to with the announcement last week. The recent reprieve, while welcome, hardly represents an end to the serious matter here.

As the country is distracted by the piecemeal restrictions on immigrants wrapped in the veneer of pandemic precautions, the administration has been methodically dismantling our legal immigration system, and White House adviser Stephen Miller admitted as much in a call with supporters. All of these latest directives follow the executive branch pattern of using procedural strategies to continue to restrict legal immigration.

However, when viewed along with a host of other administration policies targeting legal immigration, such as severely limiting refugee admissions, imposing restrictive regulations on asylum seekers, and imposing stricter new guidelines to deny more skilled worker visas. They are part of broad efforts to reshape our immigration system in the United States.


Despite ideological divisions, there has been a general consensus in this country that legal immigration is essential to the healthy functioning for society. This consensus was driven by the understanding that the private sector relies on immigrants to cover gaps with skilled workers. American laboratories and technological hubs are very enriched by scientists from across the world. American universities also count on billions of dollars in annual spending by foreign students. According to a recent Gallup Poll, a majority of citizens think immigration is good for the country.

The focus of the immigration reform movement over the last two decades was never to dismantle the legal immigration system, but instead to close the flow of undocumented migrants and modernize our approach to legal immigration. As Mitt Romney had said during his 2008 campaign, “We are going to end illegal immigration to protect legal immigration.”

Trump started his campaign with rhetoric against immigration, then over time his policies have steadily advanced the increasingly hard line. Under the guise of protecting the country from the coronavirus, the White House is setting sights on legal immigrants. We have wrestled with what it means to be a nation of immigrants. That foundational concept is being reshaped by the efforts to limit who gets to call the United States home.

Erica Ngoenha is the director of presidential fellows and public affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington.