Biden urges more legal avenues to reduce illegal immigration

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In a statement to the Ninth Summit of the Americas, the Biden administration proposed expanding legal avenues to discourage illegal immigration to the United States. The declaration and accompanying policy statements recognize that the attempt to end illegal entry through law enforcement alone has failed for half a century.

The statement: On June 10, 2022, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and more than a dozen other countries released the “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration.”

The leaders of the countries present at the summit said in the statement: “We . . . reiterate our commitment to strengthen national, regional and hemispheric efforts to create the conditions for safe, orderly, humane and regular migration and to strengthen frameworks for international protection and cooperation. . . .

“We affirm that regular pathways, including circular and seasonal labor migration opportunities, family reunification, temporary migration mechanisms and regularization programs promote safer and more orderly migration. We intend to strengthen fair labor migration opportunities in the region, incorporating strong safeguards to ensure ethical recruitment and employment, free from exploitation, violence and discrimination, with respect human rights and with a gender perspective. . . .

“Strengthen and expand channels for temporary labor migration, where possible, that benefit countries in the region, including through new programs that foster linkages between employers and migrant workers, for ethical recruitment and legal protections for workers’ rights.

The Biden administration (correctly) defining the migration issue as regional has encouraged other countries, including Spain and Canada, to help provide solutions, including providing visas for more workers.

US policies: A White House fact sheet detailed the new US policies in conjunction with the statement. In some cases, the policies are not new but reinstate or complement recent or existing measures. These include adding to current US visa categories and admitting people as refugees or through parole.

The White House fact sheet states:

  • “The United States will initiate the development of a $65 million United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot program to help American farmers hire agricultural workers under the H-2A program. In conjunction with other agencies, the USDA is exploring a multi-year pilot program funded by the President’s U.S. Bailout to provide subsidies to agricultural employers who hire agricultural workers from northern Central American countries under the H-2A seasonal visa program and accept additional protections to benefit both U.S. and H-2A workers. . . .
  • The United States will provide 11,500 H-2B seasonal nonfarm worker visas to nationals of northern Central America and Haiti. . . .
  • “The United States will commit to resettling 20,000 refugees from the Americas in fiscal years 2023 through 2024. . . .
  • “The United States will increase the resettlement of Haitian refugees. . . .
  • “The United States will resume and increase participation in the Haitian family reunification parole program. . . .
  • “The United States will resume the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (CFRP). . . . The CFRP provides a safe and orderly pathway to the United States for certain Cuban recipients of approved family immigrant applications.

More workers or more restrictions on hiring workers? : Admitting more temporary workers would reduce the number of people who choose to enter the United States illegally. Research by the National Foundation for American Policy found that admitting more Mexican farmworkers through the Bracero program reduced illegal entry (apprehensions) at the border by 95% between 1953 and 1959.

Both the summit statement and the White House fact sheet call for more workers to be admitted. However, other policies of the Biden administration appear to make it more complex or more expensive to employ temporary workers, which could lead to fewer workers being admitted to the United States.

U.S. employers view the H-2A category for agricultural workers as problematic and are unhappy with a proposed H-2A regulation from the Biden administration. The US Apple Association criticized the rule: “US Apple believes this rule is flawed and will create additional administrative burden and cost for an already costly program. . . . If this regulation goes ahead, it will triple or quadruple the deposits the Department receives each year. . . while costing growers more in application costs and providing very little benefit to a shrinking US agricultural workforce. This program is essential for the apple industry, as more and more growers enroll in the program each year. However, it is expensive, bureaucratic and disconnected from the realities of production agriculture today.

For those who think the problem is that H-2A workers are underpaid, note that on December 9, 2021, the Department of Labor announced that it had fined a Florida beekeeping company after it paid workers H-2A. After that American workers: “Big River Honey of Gulf County paid $7,265 in civil penalties after the division cited several violations, including: Announcing multiple requirements for American workers, but not applying the same terms to H workers -2A. Pay H-2A workers at a higher rate than corresponding U.S. workers performing the same job.(Emphasis added.)

The best reforms for H-2A, H-2B (non-agricultural seasonal workers), and any new visa categories are to increase portability for workers and accessibility for employers. This would provide better recourse and more options for workers in difficult employment situations. Forcing immigrant workers to be without legal status, which happens when legal visas are not available, is the least likely way to improve the welfare of American or foreign workers.

Analysts note that legal visa categories should not be judged against an unattainable state of perfection, but against the hundreds of men, women and children who cross the US border and die each year because legal options are not available.

Anti-Contraband Efforts: The White House fact sheet announced new anti-smuggling efforts: “The President will announce a first-of-its-kind campaign, unprecedented in scale, to disrupt and dismantle smuggling rings in Latin America.

A recent analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) should temper expectations that a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) anti-smuggling initiative will produce lasting results. “The low barrier to entry into becoming a human smuggler is reason for pessimism that US law enforcement may ever succeed in ending or significantly reducing human trafficking,” according to the NFAP Review of Academic and Law Enforcement Literature on Human Trafficking. “It doesn’t take much to become a smuggler, and some prominent smugglers are even teenagers. The low barrier to entry for human trafficking is a global phenomenon.

DHS notes that stricter immigration enforcement has increased human trafficking. Today, around 95% of people crossing borders illegally employ smugglers compared to 40% to 50% in the 1970s.

The Biden administration deserves credit for giving a central role to legal channels for work and humanitarian migration in alleviating misery and reducing illegal immigration. However, significantly reducing illegal entries will require more visas, including for non-agricultural workers, and more places for refugees to help those fleeing persecution and dangerous conditions.

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