Simplifying immigration should be top Biden priority

Simplifying immigration should be top Biden priority
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The votes have been tallied and the presidency of Donald Trump is over. It’s time to have a serious discussion about bringing America back to its root as a nation that welcomes immigrants with open arms and a broad smile. We no longer have to pretend that people who want to move to America are criminals, terrorists, and welfare cheats. 

Instead, as the National Academy of Sciences report found in 2016, immigrants are a good deal. They have low crime rates and bring a can-do attitude. Since most immigrants come as adults, they are ready to work and don’t need much government assistance. 

Immigration isn’t charity; it’s a bargain.


Still, we live in a world where it is incredibly hard to immigrate legally and that needs to change. The new administration provides an opportunity for America to vastly simplify its immigration system so that anybody in the world who wants to be an American can become an American without wandering into a brutal minefield of laws and regulations. 

The first proposal on the table is to pass the DREAM Act. The idea behind this legislation is simple. If you are of good character and brought to the United States as a child, you can get permanent residency. This is a simple and very humane policy that instantly improves the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who no longer have to worry that their entire lives will be disrupted because of what their parents did years ago.

The second thing that Congress should do is pass anti-travel ban legislation. A painful lesson that we have learned from the Trump administration is that a single human being — the president — can use executive orders to create painful barriers to peaceful migration arbitrarily. We must use the legislative process to create checks and balances on this power. 

I propose that the president not have the power to ban travel to and from entire nations unless both houses of Congress authorize such a ban. Congress can take the time to vote to authorize a travel ban from a specific place if there is a genuine threat of war or disease. If Congress doesn’t have the time to assemble to vote on such a crucial policy, the threat probably isn’t real.

The third thing a new president and Congress can do is provide family separation reparations. One of the most brutal effects of Trump-era immigration policy is that hundreds, maybe thousands, of small children have been separated from their parents. It has been tough for authorities to reunite them. As anyone who has grown up without parents knows, these children will needlessly suffer. 

The president of the United States has a discretionary fund that can be used for emergencies and other unpredictable costs. If we set aside $200,000 per child to pay for foster care and college, then we could support these separated kids for about $200 million - which is much less than .1 percent of the $1.4 trillion of discretionary spending President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE requested for the 2021 fiscal year. 

These three proposals are only the beginning of a much-needed overhaul of the U.S. immigration system. We’ll need to vastly simplify the visa system so that migrants can get a visa in a few days or weeks, instead of years. We’ll need to re-assign law enforcement so that they can focus on actual crimes. The men and women who work on immigration enforcement should instead work on the nearly 6,000 unsolved homicide cases each year in the U.S.. We’ll also need to defund and dismantle the detention facilities where thousands of people are held each year for the “crime” of coming to the United States without the proper paperwork. 

These are tough policies to change because the public mistakenly believes immigrants are a threat and many politicians profit from xenophobic rhetoric. Still, the struggle is worth it. Not long ago, up until the 1920s, the United States was a fairly open nation that welcomed people from throughout the world. People came from England, Poland, Russia, Mexico and many other places. So long as you were willing to work hard, America would give you a chance. If we set aside our fears and listen to our reason and compassion, we will become the world's greatest nation.

Fabio Rojas is the Virginia L. Roberts professor of sociology at Indiana University-Bloomington and a senior fellow at the Institute for Humane Studies.