Amnesty Legislation Expected Quickly

AMLO and protestors will likely be factors in its success or failure

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 19, 2021

In my last post, I compared the days before the inauguration and a shift in control in the U.S. Senate as a "calm before the storm". Somewhat optimistically, I stated therein: "The 117th Congress has convened, but not much will get done for a while." That was based on past experiences with past congresses, but I likely spoke to soon. The storm track has speeded up, and President-elect Joe Biden is apparently ready to send a massive amnesty bill to Congress for approval.

Biden did not exactly hide his interest in amnesty on the campaign trail. On his website, he asserted that he would "immediately begin working with Congress" on "a roadmap to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants."

He upped the number during the October 22 presidential debate, stating that within his first 100 days, the Biden administration would work with Congress on an amnesty for over 11 million aliens illegally present in the United States. That said, immigration did not really receive that much attention in the 2020 presidential campaign (and amnesty came up late in the debate), so you might have missed it.

The plan has only been shared with a handful of advocacy groups, but Politico reports that it would provide the aliens who are approved with status, and place them on a path to a green card within eight years. Advocates want a shorter, five-year path to lawful permanent residency, particularly for "essential workers". That would likely mean citizenship within an eight-to-11 year timeframe.

I would expect Democrats to strike while the iron is hot, regardless of what you may hear elsewhere. President Donald Trump is in rather bad odor politically (to say the least) following the January 6 riot at the Capitol. Immigration enforcement is tightly tied as a political issue to Trump (somewhat erroneously, as I recently explained), and amnesty legislation would give members an opportunity to repudiate Trump and his legacy.

That ardor will, inevitably, cool as the Trump presidency ends and politics is overtaken by events. So it would be more advantageous for Democrats to act while Trump is still fresh in members' memories. Unrest before and during the inauguration itself would likely prompt Trump's opponents to double down on their efforts, however — particularly if those demonstrations turn violent.

One particular event that could overcome the zeal for a massive amnesty would be a fresh surge of migrants at the Southwest border. Scenes of disorder there, or reports of massive numbers of entries, would prompt calls for more vigorous enforcement efforts before any amnesty were considered.

My colleague Todd Bensman reported on January 17 that a caravan of Honduran migrants had been stopped by Guatemalan riot police. Bensman explains, though, that: "Unless or until Guatemala begins to deport more back to Honduras to join the estimated 1,000 already sent home, it seems likely the travelers will attempt to break through again or maneuver around the troops."

Bensman also reports that the Mexican government is poised to stop that caravan should it reach that country's southern border.

I do not want to be a cynic, or to sound jaded, but it is in the interests of the Mexican government to ensure order at the Rio Grande with the prospect of amnesty looming, to ease passage of that proposal.

In November 2019, the Brookings Institution estimated that almost five million Mexican nationals are living illegally in the United States. There are various reasons why the Mexican government would want its nationals to be placed on a path to citizenship in the United States, but the most significant has to do with remittances, that is, money that Mexican nationals here send back home.

Remittances in 2020 to Mexico were estimated at $39.5 billion, an 8.4 percent increase over the year before. As Reuters explained in October: "Remittances hit their highest level since records began in 1995 in March of this year and then reached their second best level in June." Those remittances were, by estimates, expected to constitute 3.8 percent of Mexico's total GDP last year.

Such remittances were not all sent by Mexican nationals illegally present in the United States. In September 2019, the Pew Research Center concluded that the total Mexican foreign-born population (legal and illegal) had reached 11.2 million in 2017. But the legalization of the vast majority of Mexican nationals in the United States here illegally will secure their presence, and increase their wages and therefore their ability to send money back to the country.

And Mexico needs the money. Although its unemployment rate in November was 4.4 percent, the World Bank has stated that in 2018, 41.9 percent of Mexico's population lived below the poverty line.

By the time of the pandemic in late March, the country's GDP had already shrunk for four straight quarters. Needless to say, the coronavirus accelerated this trend, making a bad situation worse. One estimate was for Mexican GDP to fall 9 percent in 2020, although Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) stated in early January that it had shrunk "by less than 8.9 percent" — still not a heartening figure.

Still, there are strong incentives for migrants to enter illegally to take advantage of any amnesty. Inevitably, the date by which an alien had to have been in the United States to take advantage of such benefits is set in any amnesty bill at some time in the past.

Documents to prove or disprove presence on a given date are unreliable, however, and the opportunities for (and advantages of) document fraud have proven in the past to be great. An overwhelmed USCIS cannot be expected to do background investigations on every applicant, or even the vast majority.

And there is not much that Mexico can do to stop its own citizens from entering the United States illegally. In a shift from recent trends, most of the aliens apprehended by Border Patrol in FY 2021 have been Mexican nationals.

In other words, the very prospect of amnesty is a powerful magnet that will draw illegal migrants to the border, and will be just another sales pitch for smugglers (if it isn't already). It could create the very flood that would be its undoing.

In my next post, I will examine other factors that will influence amnesty legislation.