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State of the Union Must Address Bipartisan Immigration Reforms

Tomorrow the president is scheduled to give the State of the Union address before Congress. To put it bluntly, we hope he addresses the need for Republicans and Democrats to work together on immigration reforms. 

“Let’s also come together on immigration and make it a bipartisan issue,” Biden said in last year’s speech. We came close to progress earlier this year, when Senate Republicans and Democrats worked together on a bill that included certainty for our Afghan allies and so-called “documented Dreamers,” as well as reforms to the asylum adjudication process. 

It ultimately didn’t pass, but this bill needs to be the beginning, not the end, of the two parties working together on immigration.  

Public opinion is clear — Americans want leaders who will prioritize working together on immigration and border solutions, not leaders who are divisive and polarizing. In the State of the Union address, and throughout 2024, we are looking for leaders to address immigration reforms and lay the groundwork to enact solutions for a stronger and more welcoming nation.  

With that in mind, and as we already hear the heated rhetoric of the campaigns for president and other offices, the National Immigration Forum has introduced “A Better Way Forward: 2024 Immigration Principles.” They reflect our deeply rooted values as a nation. These principles should guide any leader working for an orderly, secure and humane immigration system. 

Here they are: 

Show compassion and justice to longtime residents, including Dreamers, by allowing them an opportunity to earn lawful status and citizenship.

Immigrants make countless contributions every day alongside native-born Americans, improving our communities and enriching the fabric of our nation. We need an updated immigration system that creates legal pathways for longtime residents to earn lawful status and continue living in the country they call home. 

In September, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled against Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). It is now more important than ever for Congress to pass a solution that offers Dreamers certainty. Providing the opportunity for longtime residents, including Dreamers, to earn lawful status and eventual citizenship also would provide certainty to their employers, their families and their communities. 

Public support is broad and crosses partisan lines. We just need our leaders to act. 

Continue our moral leadership in the world as a welcoming and compassionate nation that offers refuge to the persecuted. 

In the midst of a global migration crisis, the U.S. faces significant challenges to provide refuge to those fleeing persecution while also maintaining safety and order at our borders. These challenges have demonstrated the need to revisit and modernize our asylum system so that it is secure, efficient and humane. 

To start with, Congress should provide additional resources for migrant processing and personnel, in addition to needed procedural reforms. 

We can look to our longstanding commitment to refugee resettlement as an example of moral leadership. In fiscal year 2023, the U.S. resettled about 60,000 refugees, representing a significant increase after COVID-19 and underfunding reduced resettlement capacity earlier this decade. But there is still more work to do.  

For fiscal year 2024, the Biden administration set a “ceiling” of 125,000 refugee admissions, and the United States still has a way to go to reach that ambitious target. Higher refugee admissions in recent months represent real progress, but we need federal leadership in order to continue to rebuild our resettlement infrastructure and welcome more well-vetted refugees.  

With more and more people around the world being displaced every day, America should lead by example as a nation that combines order and security with welcome to the persecuted.   

Honor the human dignity of all people through our words and actions. 

By a 35-point spread in a recent poll, registered voters agree that “language that dehumanizes migrants at U.S. borders contradicts our values and harms efforts by Republicans and Democrats to work together on commonsense solutions.” In the most extreme circumstances, language that mimics extremist conspiracy theories such as the Great Replacement Theory has hateful and violent consequences. Our leaders must defend human dignity and push back against such harmful language.  

Leaders must not only speak humanely when discussing immigration, but also enact solutions that prioritize human dignity. Amid stories of family separation and lives lost on the way to the U.S., it is more imperative than ever for leaders to live up to our values as Americans — through words that treat migrants humanely, but also through enacting compassionate policies that honor human dignity. 

Address the need for safety and security on the border and in our communities. Promote community trust and safety by focusing immigration enforcement on threats to public safety and national security and preserving federal leadership in setting immigration enforcement policy. 

Immigration solutions must include secure, humane and just border policies. We know ensuring safety and security both at the border and within our communities is paramount for the well-being of all residents.  

Implementing humane border solutions creates a safer environment for native-born Americans and newcomers, allowing everyone to thrive together. Community trust is a vital component of public safety and national security, and building it requires federal immigration authorities, not local law enforcement, to enforce immigration laws.  

That’s in keeping with long-standing precedent that immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government, not of any individual state. Federal oversight ensures that national priorities and considerations guide immigration enforcement, rather than having the 50 states set 50 separate policies. 

Our leaders in Washington must work together to recognize and preserve federal oversight and authority over immigration enforcement, engendering safety and security at the border and in the interior. 

Enable fair and orderly legal immigration that continues to solidify our global economic leadership. Modernize laws to reduce backlogs and improve work visa programs for current and future workers. 

Immigrants are vital to the growth of our nation and economy, and we must create a fair and orderly legal immigration system that allows them to continue contributing to our nation.  

We face a historic labor shortage and the potential of a declining U.S. population, both of which are affecting many sectors of the economy. Tackling immigration agency backlogs and improving work visa programs are among solutions that would help meet our labor needs. 

Immigrants have continued to bolster the U.S. job market in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. And immigrants work alongside Americans in fields such as medicine, agriculture, manufacturing, hospitality and many more. They’re essential. It’s imperative that we improve our legal immigration system so we can continue welcoming their talents and skills, ensuring that we remain a leader in the global economic market. 

Defend the longstanding constitutional principle of birthright citizenship. 

Birthright citizenship is a foundational principle of American democracy, as set out in the 14th Amendment. Enacted in the years following the Civil War, this amendment enshrines core American values including due process and equal protection.  

The 14th Amendment is clear: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” 

For more than a century, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that this clause applies to children born on U.S. soil, regardless of the immigration status of their parents. Any effort to undermine birthright citizenship through executive action or legislation runs counter to our constitutional framework and history — not to mention our values

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As the Forum rolls out “A Better Way Forward: 2024 Immigration Principles,” we want our leaders and candidates for elected office adopt values-based, solutions-focused approaches to improving our immigration system.  

During tomorrow’s State of the Union address, we hope President Biden takes such an approach and prioritizes immigration by calling for the immigration reforms Americans want to see. And going forward, we urge Republicans and Democrats to lead a conversation that unifies rather than divides — and work together to pass the solutions Americans need and want. 

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