The Volokh Conspiracy

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My New USA Today op ed on Biden's Impressively Far-Reaching Pro-Immigration Agenda

It goes far beyond merely reversing awful Trump policies, but does still have some drawbacks.


President Joe Biden.


This morning, USA Today published my new op ed on the Biden administration's impressively expansive pro-immigration agenda. Here's an excerpt:

The new Biden administration has the most expansive pro-immigration agenda of any president in decades. In the wake of Donald Trump — the most anti-immigrant president in modern times — it was inevitable that any Democratic successor would change course. But the scope of Biden's agenda goes well beyond merely reversing Trump's more egregious policies. If fully implemented, it would have enormous benefits for both potential migrants and current U.S. citizens.

It is especially notable that Biden is pursuing this agenda amidst the COVID pandemic. Historically, economic crises tend to promote nativism. The last year has been a rare exception, as public attitudes have continued to become more pro-immigration.

Biden's otherwise admirable policies do have two drawbacks: heavy reliance on executive actions, and his proposal for a $15 minimum wage that would shut many recent immigrants out of the labor market….

Some of Biden's initiatives terminate Trump policies, such as reversing the anti-Muslim "travel bans" forbidding entry by residents of many nations with large Muslim populations….

All told, Biden's agenda would expand legal immigration by up to hundreds of thousands of people per year, and enable many millions of undocumented migrants already here to "come out of the shadows" (as Barack Obama put it), and begin to live normal lives, fully integrated into our economy and society. These changes would transform the lives of vast numbers of migrants fleeing poverty and oppression….

The Biden policies would  provide major benefits to  American society. Bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows would increase their productivity and facilitate assimilation. Increasing employment visas and other migration would further expand immigrant contributions to America's economy. Immigrants contribute disproportionately by starting new businesses at higher rates than natives, and making major contributions to scientific and other innovation….

One key weakness of Biden's immigration agenda is the heavy — even if sometimes unavoidable – reliance on executive actions. What one president does with a "pen and phone" can often easily be reversed by the next, as Biden himself is doing with many Trump initiatives. Some of the new policies are susceptible to legal challenge. The 100-day moratorium on deportations has been temporarily blocked by a federal court, for example.

Sadly, Biden's laudable immigration initiatives could also be undercut by his proposal for a nationwide $15 minimum wage. If enacted, it would price millions of workers out of the job market by making it unprofitable for employers to hire them, and would have a disproportionate negative effect on recent immigrants. This would both reduce immigrant workers' ability to contribute to the economy and impede their assimilation and social mobility…. Hopefully, Congress will reject this idea.