On January 12, the White House announced it would end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy toward Cuban migrants. What this means is that, going forward, Cuban migrants who enter the U.S. without authorization will be treated the same as other undocumented immigrants.
Since the 1960’s Cuban migrants have been presumed to be fleeing political persecution, a policy enshrined in the Cuban Adjustment Act. That law gives Cubans who make it into the U.S. automatic permanent resident status after one year. There have been changes over the years. In the mid-1990’s, the Clinton Administration tried to discourage Cubans from departing for the U.S. by boat in a policy that became known as “wet-foot, dry-foot.” Cubans interdicted at sea by the U.S. Coast were returned to Cuba. But Cubans who made it to U.S. shores were “paroled” into the U.S., and became eligible for permanent residence after one year.
With the U.S. and Cuba re-establishing diplomatic ties, there has been an uptick in the number of Cuban migrants traveling overland through Central America and Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border—out of concern that the deal offered by the Cuban Adjustment Act would soon end. With the administration’s new policy, Cubans will no longer be paroled into the U.S., closing off the opportunity for automatic permanent residence. Instead, Cubans who fear persecution upon return will have to make their case through the asylum process, just like any other migrant.
I explain more about this policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act in my post on Immigration Impact.
In the Senate hearing on his nomination to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on January 10, General John Kelly had to answer questions on a wide range of issues over which the Department has jurisdiction. Some of those questions pertained to immigration.
Kelly’s responses gave us a flavor of his views on immigration on broad policy issues, though when asked questions that were about specific policies, he was generally not prepared to answer.
Overall, Kelly’s views on immigration are more nuanced than the president’s. For example, concerning the current migration flows from Central America, he understands that violence, driven by the drug trade that in turn is driven by American drug consumption, is forcing people to flee.
Concerning the “Muslim ban” that the president campaigned on, Kelly said that he doesn’t “agree with registering people based on ethnic or religion or anything like that.”
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an initiative of the Obama administration that has proven to be an enormous success with the 740,000 beneficiaries of the program, has yielded gains not just for the individual beneficiaries, but also for the communities in which they live, their employers, and government at all levels.
Ending the program, as the president-elect has vowed to do, comes with an economic downside. If DACA recipients lose their work authorization and no longer can work, they will lose their earnings, the economy will suffer and the government will lose tax payments. Two recent studies have estimated what the end of the DACA program would cost the U.S. economy, the Medicare and Social Security systems, and employers who will incur costs if they are forced to replace their workers.
Once in office, the new Administration will have to ask itself whether it really makes sense to have employers, communities, and governments incur such costs to reverse an initiative that has not only been a tremendous success for its recipients, but also popular with the general public. One can only hope that, after the transition has taken place, the business sense that Mr. Trump is reputed to have will translate to common sense with regards to the DACA initiative.
On one level, the views of President-elect Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Secretary appear to be aligned with his boss’s focus on securing the border. Kelly also supports enhanced border security, but he believes that a wall is not going to stop people from coming here. In Senate testimony early last year, he said that, “addressing the root causes of insecurity and instability is not just in the region’s interests, but ours as well.”
His more holistic approach to the region’s problems may clash with immigration hardliners that Trump has surrounded himself with. For them, it is sufficient to enforce immigration laws and to build barriers to keep people out.
How will Kelly’s more nuanced views about migration translate to DHS policy towards the women and children who Kelly knows are fleeing violence and instability? How will his views shape the treatment of millions of undocumented immigrants who are today so much a part of our communities?
A new report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) on the issue of “brain waste” describes the most important factors that result in high-skilled immigrants being underemployed (that is, high-skilled immigrants in low-skill jobs) or unemployed. For the first time, this report estimates the earnings lost from underutilized immigrant skills.
MPI researchers determined that the 1.5 million high-skilled immigrants working in low-skill jobs earn a total of $39.4 billion less each year than they would if they were employed in jobs appropriate to their skill level. The forgone earnings translate into a total of $10.2 billion in lost state and local tax revenue, according to the report.
This new research gives advocates the tools to go to policy makers at the state and local level and show them what their return on investment will be when they support programs to help skilled immigrants gain whatever extra training they need to gain employment in high-paying jobs appropriate to their skill level. A modest investment of public funding will lead to a big boost in earnings and, as a result, a big boost in taxes paid.
A group that favors a hard line towards both legal and illegal immigration released a document with transition ideas for the incoming administration. There was nothing new in the document, which laid out the same extreme views that have mostly been on the margins of the immigration debate. What is new is the receptivity of those nominated to hold key posts with jurisdiction over immigration policy.
The dark views of the incoming president and his team make it very likely that restrictionist and extreme views on immigration will now be taken seriously. Their energy will be focused on preventing immigrants from coming to this country and on removing those who can be removed. Whether the president-elect spends more time and energy on immigration is unclear, however those he is putting in positions of power will no doubt keep their sights focused on these goals. Their views are antithetical to those of a welcoming, inclusive America where the success of all will be critical to our continued prosperity.
Read more comparing the views of some of President-elect Trump’s nominees with those of the anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform on my post on Immigration Impact.
Amidst all the talk from immigration hardliners, including the incoming president, of ending President Obama’s wildly successful program to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, America’s college and university leaders are speaking out to defend their students. Hundreds of education leaders across the country have signed on to a “Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and our Undocumented Immigrant Students.”
The statement, organized by Pomona College in California, includes all of the nation’s Ivy League Universities as well as the nation’s largest four-year public university system, the California State Universities. The statement reads in part, “…DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded. … This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent — and these students … are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”
President-elect Trump has favored a hard-line message on immigration, but the public does not support deporting these young people, who are American in all but their papers.