Political party platforms and immigration: Contrasting visions for America
By R. Mark Frey
Immigration Law and You
Well, they’re done. The Republican and Democratic Party conventions have now come to a close in this, a most unusual election year. The balloons and confetti have fallen, the signs taken down, and the ‘speechifying’ over, as the candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, gear up for the final leg of the presidential race.
After watching both conventions, I was struck by the sharp contrast between the two parties’ visions for the United States, especially in terms of the tenor and tone of their celebratory proceedings, sometimes raucous, sometimes inspirational.
The Republicans promote a disturbingly dark vision, permeated with fear and a sense of danger lurking around every corner, arguing that we need a strong man (father figure?) to protect us. (“Our enemies have been emboldened and our national security is at great risk. Our country faces a national security crisis and only by electing a Republican to the White House will we restore law and order to our land and safety to our citizens.”)
The Democrats on the other hand, declare, “enough with the fear”, calling us to the task of fulfilling the Founders’ vision of forming a more perfect union through reliance on core American character traits – hope, optimism, grit, and pluckiness.
Without doubt, both parties agree that we need change. The status quo is not working for all and something needs to be done. But, what change is needed and how do we go about achieving it? That’s the rub.
The parties’ differing approaches to immigration are apt reflections of their larger, divergent visions for America. And, it’s startling.
The Republicans beat the drum of fear, fear of the future, fear for our safety, and fear of others who are different from ‘Us’. The Democrats agree dangers are out there but contend that we’ve always lived in a dangerous world and add that overreaction to fear only leads to dire results, now and for future generations to come.
So what do the two party platforms say specifically about immigration? The Republican Party Platform asserts in its section devoted to immigration issues (“Immigration and the Rule of Law”), somewhat hysterically, that the United States is overrun by hordes of “illegals”, thanks to the actions of President Obama. “With all our fellow citizens, we have watched, in anger and disgust, the mocking of our immigration laws by a president who made himself superior to the will of the nation.” The Republicans maintain that those “illegal aliens”, with links to terrorists, drug cartels, human traffickers, and criminal gangs, present a serious danger to the “safety and sovereignty of the United States.” Our nation’s highest priority should then be to “secure our borders and all ports of entry and to enforce our immigration laws.” And that is why, insists the GOP, a wall needs to be built along the southern border. “The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
The Republican Platform touches, as well, upon “illegal aliens” as they relate to E-verify (employment eligibility), access to public benefits, criminal convictions, reentry after being previously deported, guest worker programs, sanctuary cities, and states being authorized to enforce our federal immigration laws, traditionally the domain of federal immigration authorities. The Republicans also favor limiting asylum to those with claims based on political opinion, ethnicity, or religion, thereby reversing extensive current immigration law allowing claims on other bases, such as gender and sexual orientation.
While the Republican Platform’s assertions have value from a rhetorical standpoint, serving to rile up the party faithful, they do little to illuminate the true state of immigration and our current laws in the United States. The essence of the Republican Platform has more to do with demonizing a group of people, the Other, for the rest of Us to unite against. Unfortunately, that tired, stale tactic won’t get us very far and only serves to create further division, yet again delaying sorely needed change in this area.
Fair enough. If the Republican Platform is marred by divisive rhetoric and less than honest claims about immigration, what does the Democratic Party Platform offer in this most unusual election year?
The Democratic Party Platform declares, in its section devoted to immigration (“Fixing our Broken Immigration System”), “Immigration is not just a problem to be solved, it is a defining aspect of the American character and our shared history.” The Democratic Party is, it maintains, a party of inclusion with much at stake in this year’s election, “one about who we are as a nation and who we will be in the future.”
With that being said, the Democratic Platform calls for respect of our laws and an orderly, legal immigration system. (“People should come to the United States with visas and not through smugglers.”) But at the same time, it asserts that our current immigration system needs to be revised because a number of those laws no longer effectively serve us. One key suggested change is creating a path to citizenship for those who have been here for many years without proper documentation, who are law-abiding, bettering the lives of their families, and contributing to their communities. Other proposed changes include repeal of current mandatory multi-year and permanent bars from reentry into the United States, reduction of family backlogs, continued support for President Obama’s DACA and DAPA programs, supporting immigrants serving in the armed forces who need assistance in obtaining their U.S. citizenship, providing due process to those fleeing violence in Central America (while at the same time working with those source countries to resolve the causes of violence there), finding ways local law enforcement can work with federal immigration authorities without damaging the trust they’ve established with the immigrant communities they serve, ending contracts with for-profit private prisons and detention centers housing detained immigrants, rejecting efforts to impose a “religious test” to bar immigrants and refugees from entry into the United States, investing in “culturally appropriate” immigration integration services, and expanding English language education access while promoting naturalization among those who are eligible.
In short, the Democratic Platform seeks ways to include immigrants, incorporating them into the social, cultural, and political fabric of this vast tapestry known as the United States of America. This nuanced vision lies in stark contrast to that of the Republican Platform but one ultimately offering more hope for our nation and its prospects for the future.
Simply put, with inclusion comes a sense of belonging. And, with belonging comes a sense that one has a stake in the Great American Experiment. A strong nation is one that includes all and utilizes the talents of all. In short, E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). We are stronger together and we’re better for it.
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has practiced immigration law exclusively for more than 25 years with an emphasis on asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief, family and marriage-based immigration, naturalization, removal defense, appeals, religious workers, and H-1B, L, and E-2 visas.