Changes would include decriminalizing undocumented border crossing and ending private immigration detention centers.
A number of immigration-related statistics are surging under the Trump administration.
In fiscal year 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, federal immigration arrests reached their highest level ever — more than quintuple the level from two decades prior. In 2019, the number of apprehensions at the Mexican border reached the highest level since 2007.
The left wing of the Democratic party argues that bold reforms are needed to stem this tide. A seven-part bill they’ve introduced would institute a number of changes to America’s immigration system.
What the bill does
The New Way Forward Act would implement reforms in seven sections, according to its legislative text. These include:
- Ending private prisons or private detention centers for immigrants, starting three years after the bill’s potential enactment.
- Banning Department of Homeland Security officials including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from considering race, national origin, ethnicity, and English fluency when interrogating people.
- Limits the categories of “serious crimes” under which an immigrant is currently barred from qualifying for asylum, changing the banned category to only felonies with a jail sentence of at least five years.
- Repeals or limits decades-old laws that limit immigration judges’ discretion, instead allowing it “if the immigration judge finds such an exercise of discretion appropriate in pursuit of humanitarian purposes, to assure family unity, or when it is otherwise in the public interest.”
- Prevents state or local law enforcement from the “investigation, apprehension, transport, or detention” of undocumented immigrants, as some law enforcement particularly in red states are doing.
- Repeals the existing law which makes crossing the border illegally a potentially imprisonable offense.
It was introduced in the House on December 10 as bill number H.R. 5383, by Rep. Jesús García (D-IL4).
What supporters say
Supporters argue the legislation is a more humane approach to America’s immigration issues, rather than the hardline approach advocated by President Trump and most Republicans.
“Too many families in Chicago and around the country have been torn apart by cruel immigration policies.” Rep. García said in a press release. “Imagine living with the constant fear of being detained anywhere and deported at any time simply because you fled violence and sought refuge in the U.S. We must end the labels of the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ immigrant used to dehumanize and divide communities.”
“An attack on one community is an affront to us all,” Rep García continued. The bill would “disrupt the prison to deportation pipeline, give all immigrants the dignity of due process, and ensure America remains a nation that welcomes all.”
What opponents say
President Trump counters that his administration’s immigration policies are better than his opponents’ plans, not only by being fairer to natural-born Americans but also fairer to immigrants who come in legally.
“Democrats are proposing open borders, lower wages, and, frankly, lawless chaos. We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages, and safety of American workers first,” Trump said in a 2019 speech. “Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant, and pro-worker. It’s just common sense.”
“Our plan… stops illegal immigration and fully secures the border,” Trump continued. “The proposal begins with the most complete and effective border security package ever assembled by our country — or any other country, for that matter. It’s so important.”
Besides the more “obvious” Republican opponents, even some Democrats may note that many key immigration-related statistics are actually down. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests in 2019 were lower than during almost every year of the Obama administration. The record high for removal of unauthorized immigrants was in 2013. And border apprehensions actually peaked back in 2000.
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 44 cosponsors, all Democrats. Cosponsors include all four members of “The Squad”: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14), Ilhan Omar (D-MN5), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA7), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI13).
It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Odds of passage are low in the Republican-controlled Senate.