Democrats Must Imagine a New Immigration Framework


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When the first Democratic debates turned to immigration, most candidates sang a familiar tune: They criticized the president and spoke in platitudes about American values. Given the Trump administration’s hardline and racist policies towards immigrants, it doesn’t take much courage for candidates to do either.

Actual progress on immigration requires much more.

As a college graduate preparing for a career in public service and immigration advocacy, I want laws that protect the most vulnerable, rather than terrorize them. As a voter, I want an administration that will address the moral imperative of immigration reform with precision and creativity. As a young person, I want immigrants to be recognized as what they are — fundamental to the future of our country. As a Democrat, I want a candidate who will:

End the social media surveillance of immigrants. Legal scholars have frequently criticized the Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring, which was started by President Obama. President Trump has expanded this practice, collecting social media handles and biographical information for all applicants for citizenship and those who have been naturalized.

Protect immigrants who serve (or have served) our country, and their families. Thirteen percent of all veterans are of immigrant origin, and even after service, some are still at risk of deportation. President Trump has suggested ending protections for families of active troops, scaling back the Parole in Place program — a proposal we must reject.

Ensure legal representation for people facing deportation. All people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol have the right to a lawyer, but only 37 percent receive representation in their removal cases.

Protect DACA, and establish comprehensive pathways for citizenship. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program, has so far been kept alive by lower courts despite Trump’s attempt to dismantle it.

Increase accountability for enforcement officialsICE’s disappearing records make accountability difficult. According to some courts, individual ICE agents cannot be sued for their actions, even if they violate an immigrant’s rights through racial profiling and illegal seizure.

Overhaul and reform work visas, like the H-1B. President Trump has increasingly prioritized immigrants with advanced degrees, yet many more types of immigrants are needed to balance the American economy and revive small communities.

End the Muslim Ban. Throughout the first two Democratic debates, candidates focused exclusively on immigration issues plaguing our southern border, neglecting to mention reforming another important Trump-era policy: the Muslim ban, which is still in effect. Inhumane and isolationist immigration policies have been an overarching theme of President Trump’s leadership, and candidates must view immigration on a much wider, global scale. Immigrants come from every region for every reason, but our country has historically excluded and punished immigrants of color.

Immigrants are under renewed attack this week as President Trump’s two-week deadline for Democrats to make changes to asylum law passed on Saturday. 2020 candidates must take charge and point the Democratic Party in a new direction. The first debates are over, now what? Young voters know that Democrats have made mistakes in the past; President Obama deported more people than any other president, and his immigration legacy was not perfect. We are hypercritical because we care.

The current immigration system rejects fundamental American constitutional principles, like the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, due process, freedom from discrimination, and data privacy. As presidential candidate and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro said during Wednesday’s debate, watching migrants suffer at the border “is heartbreaking. It should piss us all off … and it should spur us to action.”

For undocumented people, the 5.1 million American children with noncitizen parents, the millions of mixed-status households, and any American who cares about human rights, this election could not be more significant. As they shape their policy platforms and campaign priorities, Democrats can stand out by paying attention to the details. Our immigration system poses difficult and complicated questions. Young voters are watching, and we need a candidate with answers.

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