By Aron Solomon
Many of us of a certain vintage remember Schoolhouse Rock, especially the famed “I’m Just a Bill” episode, featuring a song many have remembered since it came out in 1975.
This is exactly where President Biden finds himself today – mere weeks into his administration – trying to quickly give a bill the strength to become a law.
One prescient comment on the Schoolhouse Rock video encapsulates President Biden’s challenge with immigration reform.
In practical terms, with a 50-50 Senate, Democrats would need to win over 10 Republicans to avoid a Republican filibuster, which can delay or even block legislation from coming to a vote. On the House side, while it remains controlled by Democrats, the margin has narrowed since the November election.
Even before President Biden was inaugurated, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) tweeted what may be the mainstream position among Republican members of Congress.
Here are the realities of where President Biden finds himself today:
Two weeks after announcing his sweeping immigration reform bill, leading Democrats in the House and Senate are conceding that what actually will be accomplished may be significantly more modest. While immigration reform proponents across the nation who support the Democrats waging a major battle on immigration point out that the Democrats’ new hold on the White House and Congress provides a major edge,only three days after the bill was announced they already admitted that they may have to accept less than total victory. Much of the language coming out of Washington at the moment views citizenship for the 11 million immigrants illegally in the United States as an end goal that may need to be reached in steps rather than one giant leap.
To many who work in and around the immigration law vertical every day, the time for baby steps has long passed.
Adriana Gonzalez, a partner in the Florida law firm Gonzalez & Cartwright, P.A., echoes the views of millions of immigration advocates throughout the United States today::
Comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship is way overdue. Dreamers shouldn’t have to live in constant fear that they could lose everything in an instance regardless of how hard they work. Children shouldn’t have to go to school worrying about whether that is the day their parents get detained at an immigration raid at work. Parents shouldn’t have to worry about getting deported because they drove their sick child to the doctor. The fact is that these are American families, and regardless of immigration status, they are the backbone of America. They are our teachers, doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, construction workers, farmers, and as we have seen during this pandemic, our essential front line workers.
The second most powerful Democratic in the Senate, Richard Durbin (Ill.) said during an interview this week that the most likely first step in immigration reform would be a clear path to citizenship for “dreamers” – the over 1 million immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children yet who have spent their entire lives here since they arrived.
While critically important, the dreamers are a one small piece of a large and complex puzzle that needs to be quickly constructed. This is because of the central role so many immigrants – both documented and undocumentd – play in the US economy today and will need to play when the nation rebounds from the profound effects of COVID-19.
Attorney Gonzalez observes:
Our economy could not prosper without them and it is time for us to reciprocate what they have given to this country, and to celebrate that we are the greatest nation in the world because we are a nation of immigrants. As a Colombian immigrant and naturalized American citizen, I feel very fortunate to have been able to realize my own American dream of becoming a lawyer and an advocate for justice, and it is our responsibility to help keep the American dream alive for others.
Just yesterday, President Biden signed immigration executive orders aimed at creating a task force to reunify children who were separated from their parents under former President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. The executive orders were also designed to fix process issues in immigration that allowed these family separations to happen.
Yet critics of yesterday’s executive orders welcome the new tone coming from the White House but argue that yesterday’s orders offer no real relief for many families waiting in Mexico as their cases slowly move through US immigration court.
Moving forward, to keep the dream alive on immigration, President Biden will need to be masterfully skilled in his work with the Senate and there is no reason to suggest that the most experienced president in history – as regards his work and tenure in the Senate – would not be. But a 50/50 split is highly tenuous, especially with the opportunity for so much potential political gain (and loss) in the power of those senators who could be queen- or king-makers.
The weeks ahead will reveal much about what the Biden administration in its first year with immigration but also how savvy the new administration is in the necessary political nuance that has been so lacking the past four years.
About Aron Solomon
Aron Solomon is the senior digital strategist for NextLevel.com and an adjunct professor of business management at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University.