A People’s Agenda for Immigration

Local organizers share the immigration policies that they believe President Biden should prioritize.

Illustration by Brian Herrera for Borderless Magazine/CatchLight Local Chicago

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Today, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. His presidency follows four years of dramatic changes to the nation’s immigration system and unprecedented restrictions on refugees and asylum seekers.

Already, Biden has promised to reverse many of President Trump’s immigration policies early in his tenure. A memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, sent to senior staff on Saturday, indicates that Biden intends to sign close to a dozen executive actions on and shortly after Inauguration Day, including a measure to end Trump’s Muslim ban. The president-elect also plans to submit a comprehensive immigration reform bill to Congress. The proposed plan will allow DACA recipients and others to apply for green cards and restore refugee and asylum programs to their pre-Trump state, according to transition officials. 

Borderless Magazine asked immigrant organizers and their allies in Chicago how they hope President Biden will change the immigration system. Here is what they said.


Reverse Immigration and Travel Bans

Jims Porter, communications and advocacy manager at RefugeeOne

Some of the Trump Administration’s first actions were direct attacks on immigrant communities, starting with the racist travel bans targeting refugees and Muslim immigrants. From day one, these communities have been under attack. 

While we recognize the potential for pro-immigrant legislation under the new Congress, there’s also an urgent need and opportunity for the Biden administration to take executive action to rescind many of Trump’s proclamations and policies. These include expanding DACA and Temporary Protected Status; imposing a moratorium on ICE enforcement, detention and deportations; restoring refugee resettlement to historic norms; and rescinding the public charge rules, the “Remain in Mexico” policy and travel bans.

Restore the U.S. Refugee Program

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, co-chair of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition

President Trump and his xenophobic agenda—orchestrated by white supremacists Stephen Miller and Stephen Bannon—enacted policies that are hostile to immigrants and refugees and against all American values. It is shameful that we resettled only dozens of Syrian refugees out of six million in the midst of a global refugee crisis. Immigrants and refugees bring prosperity, job creation, economic vitality and diversity to our neighborhoods and towns. 

I hope that the Biden administration first rectifies what has been destroyed by Trump by reopening our doors to diverse immigrants and increasing our share of refugees resettled to 120,000 per year, as he promised. This should include larger numbers of Syrian and Muslim refugees. Ultimately, it is important that the Biden administration prioritizes comprehensive immigration reform and doesn’t make the same mistake as the Obama administration: placing it on the back burner. 

Abolish Immigration Detention

Colin McCormick, program director at Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants

The ICDI urges the incoming Biden administration to make abolition of immigration detention its biggest priority. The immigration industrial complex cruelly and inhumanely jail individuals simply for being born in another country. Alternatives to immigrant detention can be seen around the world, and the Biden administration must work toward abolishing detention centers and ICE contracts with local jails.

ICDI works with hundreds to thousands of diverse immigrants each year in our programs. We support asylum seekers who come to the border seeking refuge as well as individuals who are facing the criminal justice system, having been transferred from police custody to ICE custody. Regardless of why someone is detained by ICE, no one should face the cruelty of immigrant detention. Alternatives to immigrant detention range from personal sponsorships to organizational sponsorships, like the ICDI housing program

Recognize Detention As a Public Health Crisis—and Immediately Free Detainees

Jesse Johnson, board member of Midwest Immigrant Bond Fund Coalition 

President-elect Biden needs to direct ICE and the immigration courts to release individuals from immigration detention, either on parole or bond, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since ICE began testing in February 2020, there have been 231 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Chicago-area facilities. This includes 110 cases at the Pulaski County Detention Center in Ullin. This is unacceptable when there are alternatives to detention. We need to #FreeThemAll and #EndDetention. 

Provide a Path to Citizenship

Megan Singson, communications specialist at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago

We believe Biden’s top priorities should be creating a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants without any criminalization or increased enforcement provisions; improving our family-based immigration system by implementing the provisions of the Reuniting Families Act; and ordering a moratorium on deportations.

Increase Language Access

Sarah Pajeau, program manager at Rohingya Culture Center

[An] important priority is giving [immigrants] access to interpreters during their citizenship application and interview processes. Specifically for Rohingya seniors, it is extremely difficult to learn English writing, reading and even speaking due to their lack of formal education and trauma.

Adopt a Pro-migrant and Pro-migration Narrative

Oscar Chacón, executive director of Alianza Americas

Throughout the last four decades, political forces motivated by white supremacist and xenophobic prejudices have consistently promoted an anti-immigrant narrative, which presents the people of Mexico and other Latin American countries as a threat to the United States of America. Unfortunately, this effort has managed to penetrate the leadership circles of the two dominant political parties, as well as the mindset of many organizations that are part of the pro-immigrant and pro-immigration reform field. We consider urgent for the Biden-Harris Administration to adopt a narrative genuinely attached to the truth regarding immigrants in general, and in particular the people of Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Such a narrative must focus on the fact that these populations have been a vastly positive factor in the life of the USA. This is essential to create the appropriate environment for public opinion to support immigration policy reforms. Part of this new narrative must include a recognition of the restrictive, exclusive and punitive Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 as a serious error that must be promptly corrected. The human cost infringed by this law is enormous, and its legislation made possible by the prevalence of the toxic, racist and xenophobic narrative mentioned before.
Editor’s note: This is an edited excerpt from Alianza Americas’ full statement, viewable here.  

Let Communities Lead

Organized Communities Against Deportation team

Just as repressive policies and state violence have continued to rise, so has the resistance of the people. The government’s negligent response to the pandemic has mobilized people to strengthen mutual support networks, which have reminded us that WE ARE WHAT WE NEED. We can thrive as a community when we organize and trust our radical imagination and hearts.

Biden in office does not mean more safety for us, and we are not going to let our guards down. There’s a lot of harm that needs to be repaired and a lot more structures that need to be dismantled. Our loved ones are still locked up, they are still being deported, they are still being murdered, and we know this is not the time to lower the pressure but rather to level up and improve our tactics. We will continue to be in solidarity with the Black Liberation Movement, demanding to defund and abolish the police. We will also continue to call for the abolition of ICE, CBP and prisons. Because we believe in our people, collectively healing and collectively creating new realities.
Editor’s note: This is an edited excerpt from OCAD’s full statement, viewable here.   

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