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A Decade of Stalled Immigration Reform: What The Gang of 8 Push Couldn’t Achieve

by Chloe Baker
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Ten years ago, Senator Chuck Schumer said that it was time to repair our broken immigration system. Senator John McCain quoted someone named Winston Churchill and Lindsey Graham predicted that 2013 was going to be the year of fixing immigration laws.

Eight senators from both political parties were excitedly gathering together in a Washington building in the past, however things have changed a lot since then. In fact, experts who study immigration policies and their advocates are doubting that it will be possible to find a solution for immigration problems. This makes everything seem way further away than ever before.

Republican politicians are trying to make their base of supporters happy by talking tough on the border. Meanwhile, the Democrats have disagreed with each other for the last ten years about how much control to put up at the border and how to be respectful with immigrants – showing a divide in opinion about how to solve these issues.

Cecilia Muñoz, who worked for both Barack Obama and Joe Biden, thinks that it’s not certain if anything related to immigration will win enough votes.

The last time the US Government made a big effort to secure the border was in 1986 under President Ronald Reagan, and then again four years later with some help from President George H.W. Bush. That means that right now, agents are guarding our borders using technology like drones and special software which were created long before things like phones and computers even existed! Recently, there was a tragic fire at a detention centre near the Mexico-US border which killed 39 people who were living there.

In 2013, Congress tried to reach an agreement on immigration. Sen. Schumer from New York and Sen. Rubio from Florida were part of this group called “Gang of Eight”. In June 2013, their plan was approved in the Senate. This plan included a pathway that would let millions of people who don’t have legal status in the USA become citizens, it increased work visas for people coming here, it made sure that employers only hire people with legal status and lastly, it promised more border security so fewer undocumented immigrants can enter the country illegally.

Democrats were very excited about a new way of dealing with the immigration issue. Republicans wanted to have a better relationship with Hispanic people, since Obama had gotten so much support from them when he was reelected in 2012.

People who supported the plan came from different backgrounds, like powerful labor unions and big businesses. There was even more enthusiasm behind this effort than there had been for other immigration changes that failed to pass while George W. Bush was president.

In 2014, John Boehner, a Republican and Speaker of the House, wanted to introduce a bill about something involving undocumented people called the Gang of Eight. However, many members of Congress didn’t trust President Obama at that time so there was not enough support for it and the bill failed. Then President Obama introduced a program that would protect young people who were brought to America illegally as kids from being deported. The Supreme Court had agreed to this program before but now their majority is made up of more conservative people which may lead to changes in the future.

A few years after the Obama program was created, President Donald Trump suggested building a wall along America’s 2,000-mile Southern border. His team then broke up families by separating children from their parents and they also made migrants wait in Mexico while applying for protection in the US.

On the day that Biden took office, he proposed a big change to immigration laws. But no one in Congress agreed with him. Biden then changed some of the rules from when Trump was president and made them stricter again. At the same time, more Hispanic people are now voting for Republicans.

The government is still following Title 42 laws which allow them to send immigrants who are looking for asylum back home quickly, though these restrictions will no longer be in effect after May 11. The Biden administration is also thinking about holding families waiting for their asylum cases in detention centers, the same thing that both Obama and Trump’s administrations did.

Gil Kerlikowske, who worked for the United States Customs and Border Protection during Obama’s term, said that a lot of things are happening at the same time. This includes movement to end Title 42, an increase in South American migrants travelling across the dangerous rainforests of Darian Gap between Colombia and Panama ,and political pressure due to the Presidential Election in 2024.

Two and a half years have passed since the start of this government, yet, no one knows for sure what their immigration policy really is. In other words, even though it’s hard to make laws happen, we want our leaders to tell us about their policy and plan for immigrants.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, led by President Domingo Garcia, feels so much pressure at the border that they are now asking for a 6-month period where no one can ask for asylum in the U.S. This would help overwhelmed cities at the border and also let migrants know that if they come to America seeking asylum after these six months, their cases won’t be processed or accepted for a long time.

Garcia, who is from a nationally known Latino rights group, declared that everyone needs a fresh start. He thinks both groups – the people who want to shut down borders no matter what and those who are on the extreme left – have wrong ideas.

President Biden’s team said in January that they can allow up to 30,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela into the U.S. each month if they apply applying on their computer. The Homeland Security Secretary (Alejandro Mayorkas) announced that the new regulations are intended to discourage cartels who help migrants cross into America unlawfully.

The government is creating a system so that people can safely enter the US to ask for asylum instead of using smugglers. It seems to be helping lower the number of migrants arriving at the borders. For example, in 2022, over 2.5 million migrants were detained, and December saw the highest amount with over 250,000! However, this year the numbers have dropped significantly in January and February.

Because fewer people are crossing the border, there are now thousands of migrants hoping to get asylum in the United States stuck on the Mexican side. Last month, a few people who were being held protested because they were afraid they might be sent back home. They said that when authorities came to pick them up, they had been trying to apply for something online.

During the summer, more people tend to try and cross into the U.S. Activists think President Biden hasn’t been clear when it comes to allowing immigrants across the border, as he is still enforcing Title 42 and thinking of reopening family detention centers despite other Democrats not wanting him to do this.

Senator Schumer and 17 other Senate Democrats recently wrote a letter to President Biden, cautioning him against using family detention policies. They labelled these policies as being wrong and unhelpful in managing immigration. The Senators urged Mr. Biden to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors when considering such policies.

Republicans are upset by the number of migrants at the US-Mexico border, called a “border crisis” by President Biden. Since Trump was elected president, Republicans have become more popular in some Latino places. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew some people from Texas to Massachusetts in order to prove that Democrats don’t really care about the “border crisis”.

Recently in Miami, Nery Lopez was part of a group that stood up to an unfair law proposed by the state which would punish any person transporting migrants who are in the country illegally. At 27 years old, she came to America when she was only 4 from Mexico and is protected from being deported because of Obama’s program.

Her and others advocating for this cause are hoping the Biden administration will help make things fair by going against Republican’s strict immigration regulations.

Lopez said that she and many other people feel defeated as it feels like they are entering the same cycle again. Weissert is reporting from Washington.

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