Immigration has always been fundamental to the growth of the United States, yet the rights of U.S. immigrants continue to be challenged. Since his 2016 presidential election campaign, President Donald Trump has advocated for “building the wall.” Now, in a time of changing presidential administrations, the protection of the rights of undocumented immigrants has been thrown into question.
There is a wide spectrum of those designated as noncitizens, including lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers and refugees. The rights and protections of these individuals vary depending on their legal status. Under the Trump administration, not much progress has been made on the “build the wall” front; only 15 miles of new, primary barriers have been built in the last four years. However, the administration has made many other changes that continue to endanger noncitizens.
In 2017 alone, Trump signed anti-Muslim immigration legislation, changed laws to allow for increased detention and deportation, cut back on Middle Eastern refugee admissions, rescinded Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (which allowed parents of legal permanent residents a pathway to citizenship), announced he would terminate Temporary Protected Status from Nicaragua and Haiti and much more. While many of the effects of these changes are irreversible, including their physical and emotional toll on a substantial percentage of individuals, it is not too late to pass new legislation to work toward a more just and equitable future.
The newly elected Biden administration made several immigration-related promises on the campaign trail. First, President-elect Joe Biden is expected to reverse many of Trump’s restrictive immigration policies. It is also speculated that he will extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was first implemented during Biden’s time as vice president. While Biden plans to implement many of these changes right away, this likely won’t be the case for all immigration-related changes. For example, the Biden-Harris administration faces a long journey toward reversing Migrant Protection Protocols, a practice that has kept thousands of Mexican asylum seekers from being granted asylum.
While Biden offers a chance at progress, it seems that immigration policy may not be as high up on his list as it was on Trump’s. This could be a fundamental flaw of the president-elect. We need to both expand the number of people who can immigrate to the U.S. and the rights of immigrants who already reside within this nation’s borders.
Not only is it necessary to expand the number of asylees, refugees and immigrants allowed into the country, but one program that would be extremely beneficial to noncitizens is the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, which would allow noncitizens who entered the country legally to serve in certain branches of the military. In addition to this, allowing more foreign doctors to practice domestically through the Conrad 30 Waiver program would allow for many domestic rural locations to receive improved health care, which is especially important during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Our nation also has a desperate need for increased education, employment, health care, housing and legal programs tailored toward assisting immigrants. In order to consider ourselves the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” we must truly embody what it means to be a welcoming place for all.