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Biden immigration bill brings promise and peril

Media Contact

Rachel Rhodes

The Biden administration plans to unveil its comprehensive immigration bill on Thursday alongside Congressional leaders. The following Cornell University experts are available to speak about the bill and a longer list of researchers offering legal, labor and historical perspectives can be found here.


Stephen Yale-Loehr

Professor of Immigration Law

Stephen Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law and co-author of a leading 21-volume immigration law series, has practiced immigration law for over 35 years and is an expert on legal issues surrounding DACA, asylum and other programs.

Yale-Loehr says: 

“The Biden administration’s proposed bill is the most ambitious effort to reform our broken immigration system in over 30 years. If it becomes law, it would change every aspect of immigration law and policy.

“Given the closely divided Congress, it may be impossible to pass as one huge bill. But giving up on a comprehensive reform package right away also carries risks. If the Biden administration seeks half an immigration loaf by trying to pass a smaller bill first, say to legalize Dreamers, it may end up with nothing, or just one slice.

“Moreover, immigration is just one of several competing legislative priorities. The Biden administration is also trying to persuade Congress to pass an economic stimulus bill and deal with the COVID-19 crisis. It is like juggling three flaming torches at the same time. One misstep, and everything could come crashing down.”

Gustavo A. Flores-Macías

Gustavo A. Flores-Macías

Associate Professor of Government

Gustavo Flores-Macias, professor of government and the former Director of Public Affairs in Mexico’s Consumer Protection Agency, is an expert on taxation and state capacity.

Flores-Macias says: 

“The proposed immigration bill’s emphasis on addressing the root causes of migration in Latin America is a welcome change from the previous administration’s stance on immigration policy. Without taking seriously the ‘push factors’ in migrants’ communities of origin, such as violent crime and economic insecurity, a punitive strategy focusing on border security alone is bound to fail. 

“Investing in the region’s economic development and promoting anti-corruption efforts can make a real difference to reduce the immigrant caravans that have saturated the US immigration system.”

Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer

Assistant Clinical Professor of Law

Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, professor of immigration law and director of Cornell’s Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic, is an expert on asylum law and policies around the DACA program.

Kelley-Widmer says: 

“This bill’s provision for Dreamers could finally resolve the endless legal limbo this community is in. A path forward with Congress is essential, whether through this comprehensive bill or through the Dream Act of 2021 proposed by Senators Durbin and Graham earlier this month.

“The bill’s pathway to earned citizenship for other undocumented people is a critical measure to provide stability to immigrants and their family members while bringing people who labor for this country out of the shadows. It’s time for the government to recognize the contributions of undocumented communities and regularize their status.”

Matthew Hall

Associate Professor of Policy and Management

Matthew Hall, professor of policy analysis and management and director of the Cornell Population Center, conducts research on the intensification of interior immigration enforcement as well as the intersection of racial/ethnic inequality and immigration. He is also a signatory to the recent letter urging President Biden to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as part of upcoming economic and infrastructure relief packages.

Hall says:

“Providing pathways to citizenship not only will millions of families to come out of the shadows, but will yield significant social and economic benefits for the communities in which they live.

“U.S. labor markets have – for far too long – relied on a system of underpaid, immobile, and vulnerable immigrant workers. Legalizing these workers will not only improve the well-being of millions of immigrants, but will grease the wheels of the economy.”

Maria Cristina Garcia

Maria Cristina Garcia

Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies

Maria Cristina Garcia, professor of history and American studies, studies refugees, immigrants and exiles. She has authored several books on refugees in the U.S., most recently “The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America.”

Garcia says:

"Biden’s proposal to set up refugee processing in Central America is unusual but has historic precedent. 

"During the Cold War, past administrations occasionally allowed refugees to request admission to the United States while still in their countries, in order to ease the burden on the countries that bordered areas of humanitarian crisis. Such a policy would certainly ease the pressure on Mexico, which has borne the burden of Trump’s 'Remain in Mexico' policy and has had to redirect resources to its southern border to curtail Central American migration."

Shannon Gleeson

Shannon Gleeson

Professor of Labor Relations, Law & History

Shannon Gleeson, professor of labor relations, law and history, studies how DACA policy is implemented and the impacts of Temporary Protected Status on immigrant workers. She is also a signatory to the recent letter urging President Biden to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as part of upcoming economic and infrastructure relief packages.

Gleeson says:

"The Biden administration will indeed need to contend with Republican colleagues who will expect a tougher enforcement approach, yet it is important to also remember the devastating impact of border and interior enforcement strategies under previous Democratic administrations. We know that the legacy of Clinton-era legislation and resulting local law enforcement collaborations created a racialized deportation pipeline that will take a more holistic approach to undo.

"A hallmark of the proposed bill will be a priority pathway for essential workers (such as farmworkers).  This move is an important acknowledgement of the importance these immigrants play for our economy, but is a dangerous segmentation of immigrant community members who will be overlooked (including caregivers, the disabled, and other vulnerable individuals). A similar push towards employment visas is not unexpected, but should be coupled with stronger resources to protect the rights of these workers. Evidence from our existing guestworker programs, and from other countries with similar initiatives, reveal that a robust framework for worker rights and collective bargaining is essential.

"Provisions for a five-year path to temporary immigration status (and then three-year path to citizenship) are indeed more progress than we have seen in decades, but also will need to contend with the particular challenges that temporary immigrant workers face, even when they are not tied to a specific employer.  My research with Kate Griffith finds that the bureaucratic system of immigration enforcement (refined under the Obama administration), operates overwhelmingly through the workplace. By targeting employers, even documented workers (such as those with temporary protected status), are negatively affected as employers struggle to understand the risk of being audited and fined. 

"Finally as we push towards national reform, we cannot forget about the role that state and local governments will play in implementing whatever changes emerge. As the example of DACA showed us, the complete lack of federal support for implementing these benefits placed the onus on state and local governments to help young immigrants realize these rights. My research with Els de Graauw finds that this creates enormous inequalities not only across states, but also within regions where local institutions and civil society become essential though often lacking key resources and political will."

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