Rising immigration strengthens America — Congress must prioritize immigration reform

OPINION: The need for immigration reform has never been greater with the expiration of an emergency immigration restriction known as Title 42.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Activists and citizens with temporary protected status (TPS) rally near Capitol Hill calling for Congress to pass the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Like millions of Black people, I’m descended from Africans forcibly brought to America in chains and brutally enslaved. But millions of other Black people or their ancestors (including some of my extended family) came to America voluntarily as immigrants. 

Black immigrants are continuing to arrive in growing numbers, strengthening our nation. This makes desperately needed immigration reform an important issue for the Black community, as well as for people of other races and ethnicities. 

President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress (and perhaps a handful of Republicans) are seeking passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the U.S. and create an orderly process to admit more migrants legally.

Unfortunately, many congressional Republicans and Republicans seeking the presidency are more interested in using immigration as an issue to attack Democrats than they are in fixing our broken immigration system.

The need for immigration reform has never been greater with the expiration of an emergency immigration restriction known as Title 42, which allowed the federal government to immediately expel unauthorized migrants entering the U.S. 

The administration of then-President Donald Trump imposed Title 42 in March 2020, ostensibly as a public health measure to control the spread of COVID-19. Migrants have been expelled from the U.S. over 2.7 million times under the restriction by the Trump and Biden administrations. 

The end of the nationwide coronavirus public health emergency Thursday is responsible for the expiration of Title 42. This is expected to lead to a big increase in unauthorized immigration across the US.-Mexico border to as many as 10,000 people per day. Some of the migrants will be Black. 

Immigrants from Haiti, who crossed through a gap in the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, wait in line to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol on May 20, 2022 in Yuma, Arizona. Title 42, the controversial pandemic-era border policy enacted by former President Trump, which cites COVID-19 as the reason to rapidly expel asylum seekers at the U.S. border, was set to officially expire on May 23rd. A federal judge in Louisiana delivered a ruling today blocking the Biden administration from lifting Title 42. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The Black immigrant population in the U.S. currently stands at about 4.6 million, up dramatically from only about 800,000 in 1980. It is projected to hit 9.5 million by 2060.

Black immigrants and their children now account for about 21 percent of America’s Black population. The vast majority of Black immigrants came here from the Caribbean or Africa.

An estimated 582,000 unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. are Black, accounting for nearly 6 percent of the undocumented immigrant population in this country.  

Contrary to the claims of many Republicans, immigrants are a plus for America, not a minus. The overwhelming majority are not dangerous foreign invaders out to rob, rape and murder Americans and flood our communities with illegal drugs. 

In fact, a study of data from the Texas Criminal Justice System last year found that U.S. citizens are more than twice as likely as undocumented immigrants to be arrested for violent crimes. 

Immigrants strengthen our economy, pay taxes and fill vital jobs. They don’t want to replace Americans; they want to become Americans, just as millions of people from around the world have done. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants.  

America doesn’t have too many workers — we have too few. At the end of March, there were 9.6 million job openings in the country that employers couldn’t fill.

Thanks to Biden administration policies that led to recovery from the pandemic and sparked economic growth, the national unemployment rate was only 3.4 percent in April — the lowest level since 1969 and far below the 6.3 percent during Trump’s last month in the White House in January 2021. The Black unemployment rate fell to 4.4 percent last month — the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1940

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau, and other business organizations are among 400 groups calling on Congress to pass immigration reform. Many of these groups have traditionally supported Republicans. But they recognize that we have a shortage of workers to fill jobs on farms, in food processing, manufacturing and elsewhere.

And despite Republican claims, Biden and Democrats don’t advocate for an open border. In fact, Biden has secured more resources for border security than any other president. He sent more than 23,000 federal agents to the border with Mexico to improve security, and announced plans to send 1,500 members of the military to the border as well. 

By contrast, House Republicans are demanding budget cuts of 22 percent in funding for the Department of Homeland Security as part of their call for massive government spending cuts as their price for raising the national debt ceiling. Cuts of this magnitude to the department would severely weaken efforts to keep unauthorized immigrants and illegal drugs from crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.

Customs And Border Patrol Keep Watch At U.S.-Canada Border
Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Congress hasn’t passed an immigration reform bill since 1986. The bipartisan bill was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, who wasn’t exactly someone Republicans today would call a far-left woke progressive. 

The 1986 law enabled about 2.7 million undocumented immigrants who had been living continuously in the U.S. since 1982 to attain legal status. Unfortunately, it didn’t go far enough. About 2 million immigrants didn’t qualify because they were more recent arrivals or were unaware of the program. And more unauthorized immigrants kept arriving.

A proposal by President Biden that would have created a pathway to citizenship for about 7 million unauthorized immigrants was passed last year by the House (then under Democratic control) but died in the Senate.

Polling has shown consistently that most Americans support immigration reform. For example, a poll last year by NewsNation found that 70 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It’s time members of Congress begin to listen to the American people and follow the example of Ronald Reagan to pass comprehensive immigration reform. They should put the national interest ahead of any partisan efforts to attack each other. Voters elect lawmakers to solve problems — not to play political games.

Donna Brazile Headshot thegrio.com

Donna Brazile is a veteran political strategist, Senior Advisor at Purple Strategies, New York Times bestselling author, Chair of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and sought-after Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning media contributor to such outlets as ABC News, USA Today and TheGrio. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. Donna was the first Black American to serve as the manager of a major-party presidential campaign, running the campaign of Vice President Al Gore in 2000. She serves as an adjunct professor in the Women and Gender Studies Department at Georgetown University and served as the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University and as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. She has lectured at nearly 250 colleges and universities on diversity, equity and inclusion; women in leadership; and restoring civility in American politics.

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