President Biden will be nominating Ed Gonzalez to serve as director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Gonzalez has served as sheriff to Texas’ most populous county since 2017, prior to which he served on the Houston City Council. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is a long-time critic of former president Donald Trump and his immigration policies. In 2017, he ended a partnership with ICE that authorized local officials to enforce federal immigration laws. Through Twitter, Gonzalez denounced the ICE raids that became normalized under the Trump administration, and reassured residents that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office would not be participating. Based on these past condemnations, Ed Gonzalez’s nomination may signify a more progressive path away from the reprehensible history U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has etched thus far.
Last week, Ellen participated in AILA’s 2021 Virtual Day of Action. The purpose of the day was to advocate to our legislators in D.C. to:
- Hold USCIS accountable for inefficient policy changes and crisis-level processing delays, and to return it to its customer-oriented mission.
- Reform our immigration courts.
- Reduce and phase out the use of immigration detention.
- Provide a pathway to citizenship for the thousands of immigrants who call America home.
The New England delegation stood as a united front, raising new and important ideas. Hopefully, the passion and advocacy of the group will translate into legislative change on the Hill.
In the midst of an immigration debate characterized by harsh words and alienation, President Biden has taken steps to change the rhetoric with which we approach the topic. Through detailed memos issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department, the Biden administration has ordered U.S. immigration agencies to replace the words “illegal alien” and “assimilation” with “undocumented noncitizen” and “integration” respectively. This applies to internal communication and external correspondence. A similar change in rhetoric has already been enacted within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The decision, while small, still matters. The words we use influence the way we perceive ideas, things, and people. According to Troy Miller, a top official at Customs and Border Protection, “we set a tone and example for our country and partners around the world.” Respect must define our entire approach to immigration, in both action and rhetoric.
In a series of interviews held this past weekend, former George W. Bush distanced himself from his party on the topic of immigration. On NBC’s Today show, he said the Republican party he served has become “isolationist, protectionist, and to a certain extent, nativist.” He also criticized the fear mongering tactics of many anti-immigrant Republicans. In a Sunday Washington Post op-ed, George W. Bush advocated for bipartisan solutions in addressing the shortcomings of the current immigration system. Through a CBS interview, Bush asked Congress to “put aside all the harsh rhetoric about immigration” and stated his goal to “set a tone that is more respectful about the immigrant.” Later in the interview, the former president also expressed his disappointment in the failures of the American government in enacting immigration reform. He also gave his support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
These statements correlate with the message of his new book, which aims to humanize and appreciate the immigrants that compose this country. It is a refreshing contrast to the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric currently defining a sizable portion of the immigration debate. George W. Bush’s pro-immigrant stance also reminds the country that respecting immigrants is not a partisan idea, but should rather be the practice of all.
The “For The People” act passed the House in early March. The Democrat-sponsored bill attempts to increase voter turnout through sweeping reforms. This legislation is especially intended to help voters of color. However, some immigration experts have raised concerns that the bill may unintentionally harm immigrants.
As the bill appears before the Senate, Democrats have found themselves faced with a dilemma. Automatic voter registration (when applying for forms of state identification) is a central part of the legislation, and yet it poses the greatest threat to immigrants. Some immigration lawyers fear the measure could mistakenly register immigrants with work visas or green cards. Even if the individual never votes, the very act of registering can be considered a false claim to U.S. Citizenship. This could result in legal consequences, including deportation. It is important to note, however, that there are other immigrant advocates that do not share this concern, since automatic voter registration has already been implemented in several states and this specific problem has not yet arisen.
The voting bill is important, and these concerns should not prevent its passage in the Senate. However, it is important that Democrats acknowledge and investigate this issue, and make appropriate adjustments. These concerns should also prompt a push for increased accessibility measures (such as language services) for immigrants at government facilities like the Department of Motor Vehicles.