LEADING up to the 2020 general election, issues like COVID-19 and ongoing racial injustice have been at the top of many voters’ minds.
Sixty percent of Americans, whether Democrat or Republican, said that the coronavirus pandemic was the top issue, according to the 2020 American Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute.
However, largely missing from the election cycle — and even during the two presidential debates — has been the overarching issues surrounding immigration, despite the fact that immigrants make up close to 14% of the U.S. population, based on an analysis by the Pew Research Center.
Four years ago, the PRRI survey found that terrorism and immigration were the top issues on voters’ minds.
“One reason why immigration has not been a driving factor for the campaigns so far is because Trump, quite frankly, and politicians overall have not had the opportunity to conflate the very visceral, emotional story that energizes many people,” said Ali Noorani, president and chief executive officer of the National Immigration Forum during a briefing with ethnic media on Friday, October 30.
However, Noorani argued that immigration — as it related to family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border — was a hot issue during the 2018 midterm elections, as it drove a significant number of voters to depart from the Republican Party.
“Another reason why Trump has not been talking about immigration as much is that he realizes that in 2018, it was a losing issue for his voters,” he added.
Should there be another four years under Trump, Noorani anticipates seeing more cuts to legal immigration like more visa restrictions, as well as more uncertainty for DACA recipients and potentially the loss of status for those with other temporary protections. It could also mean putting birthright citizenship under debate once again.
On the other side, Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has also tiptoed around the immigration debate, only going as far as mentioning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era action that allowed some individuals protection from deportation and eligibility for work permits.
In June, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision blocking the Trump administration from ending the program and a month later, the administration announced the shortening of the renewal period from two years to one year.
“Unfortunately what we’ve seen now is that the administration has all intents of continuing to shrink the program to make it even harder for people to access it,” said Juan Escalante, a DACA recipient.
With DACA recipients left to renew every year, which can be a burden financially, they are left in limbo for next moves that could include another effort to scrap the program altogether.
“Similarly, we may see perhaps other proposals that include baking the DACA program whatever plans, nefarious or otherwise, the administration may have to try to pass it in Congress and try to essentially use it as a bargaining chip for any other number of policy issues that they may add to their policy agenda during the second term,” Escalante said.
A few days before the election, the Biden campaign has addressed the child separation crisis in light of a report that said 545 children remain separated from their families.
“On day one, we would hope that [Biden] would extend DACA protections, extend [temporary protected status] protections,” Noorani said, adding possible moves to legalize undocumented essential workers who have been contributing to the country, especially when it comes to COVID-19 response and recovery.
Further, Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, said the current government has “essentially shutdown every guest worker visa program” like H-1B and J-1 visas with the exception of the H-2A temporary agricultural program, which is “enormously destructive to the U.S. economy.”
During the second half of this year, the issuance of green cards has dropped by 92%, the largest decline in American history, according to Nowrasteh. The reasoning from the Trump administration was to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the American labor market.
“It is greater than the decline after the government closed its open borders policy with Europe in the 1920s. It’s greater than the decline that we saw at the beginning of the Great Depression. It’s greater than the decline that we saw at the beginning of World War II or World War I, even,” he added.
With another Trump administration, Nowrasteh anticipates these measures to continue to remain in a further effort to cut legal immigration.
“So I worry for the future that the debate will be about immigration instead of about Congress and changing the law and operating in a representative democracy where we debate things in Congress and pass laws,” he said.