The Implications of Joe Biden's Amnesties

Millions — if not tens of millions — of new immigrants

By Andrew R. Arthur on November 2, 2020

Editor's note: Read more on Trump vs. Biden: Amnesty

On October 22, I wrote a post comparing and contrasting the positions of Donald Trump and Joe Biden on amnesty. That post only detailed the proposals of each — it did not actually discuss the implications of their respective plans. While Biden vows a legislative amnesty for over 11 million aliens, in reality, the number of foreign nationals who would enter and gain status — legal or otherwise — is actually much, much larger if his plans come to fruition.

During the October 22 presidential debate, Biden stated that within his first 100 days, he would "send to the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people." That promise came late in the debate, and casual observers may have missed it.

As I noted in my post, that promise is open-ended, because it is dependent on the illegal-alien population in the United States at a given time. But what given time?

Notably, the former vice-president has not set a cut-off date by which those aliens would have had to have been present in the United States to qualify (an element of most amnesties). This is an extremely important component of the ultimate size of the proposed amnesty.

Will the cut-off date be the date that this legislation is sent to Capitol Hill? The date that the bill is actually signed into law? Or will it be a date chosen that is earlier or later than either of those two dates?

Biden referenced DACA in the course of that statement, continuing: "And all those so called Dreamers, those DACA kids, they're going to be legally certified again, to be able to stay in this country, and put on a path to citizenship." DACA resulted from a memorandum that was issued by then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on June 15, 2012, and applied only to aliens who had been present for five years as of that date (an example of an amnesty cut-off).

So, will June 15, 2007, be the date? Doubtful, because in the latest version of "Dreamer" legislation — the "American Dream and Promise Act of 2019" (which passed the House and has not been acted on in the Senate) — has a cut-off date that is four years prior to the date of passage. In fact, there will be tremendous impetus to legalize (in "one last amnesty", the sponsors will solemnly promise) all aliens illegally present in the United States on the date of passage.

Why? Because Biden's own campaign website rails against the current president's interior enforcement efforts: "Targeting people who have never been convicted of a serious criminal offense and who have lived, worked, and contributed to our economy and our communities for decades is the definition of counterproductive." In other words, Biden thinks that Trump has deported too many people.

As I explained in an October 12 post, that is a canard, because interior enforcement under Trump has not been significantly different (and in part is significantly less vigorous) than it was under the Obama-Biden administration. But given the fact that the Biden campaign's focus has not been on a lack of enforcement under the Trump administration, there will be strong impetus to legalize all aliens (illegal entrants and non-immigrant overstays) in the United States, regardless of how long they have been here.

Where, exactly, that cut-off (if any) is set will depend on whether the Republicans continue to control the Senate in the 117th Congress. Assuming Democratic control of the Upper Chamber, that date would likely be as of date of enactment, so long as there is not a huge surge of migrants entering illegally in the interim (which could cool their ardor for a later date).

Of course, as my colleague Todd Bensman has reported, DHS's most recent Homeland Threat Assessment predicts a massive wave of illegal migration in 2021. Whether that occurs (and whether the media reports on the effects of such a crisis) would likely determine whether the Biden administration attempts to turn down the magnet that a massive amnesty would create.

Even assuming, however, that there is a cut-off date, amnesties have always created an incentive for more migrants to enter the United States illegally, as new migrants enter illegally hoping that they will be able to take advantage of the next amnesty. Want proof? My former colleague Jim Edwards years ago explained, "the illegal population had replenished itself in less than a decade" after the 1986 amnesty. They came for a reason.

Of course, any amnesty that is not accompanied by a reform of the legal immigration system will have a "multiplier" effect on the number of foreign nationals who ultimately remain in and enter the United States legally.

The way that the current immigration laws are structured, immigrants are able to petition for their spouses and children to enter the United States, and once they become citizens, those erstwhile immigrants are able to petition for their parents and siblings, as well. My colleague Jessica Vaughan noted in a September 2017 Backgrounder that 61 percent of the 33 million immigrants admitted to the United States between 1981 and 2016 (20 million in total) were such "chain migration immigrants".

Nothing that the former vice president has said or issued on the campaign trail suggests that he has any intention of reforming that system (he actually says the opposite), however, and in fact, there is no reason to believe that he would not make immediate relatives abroad of an alien issued amnesty eligible for entry, too.

In fact, his campaign website states: "Each day, in every state in the country, millions of immigrants granted a visa based on family ties make valuable contributions to our country and economy." If he believes that was true in the past, why wouldn't it be true in the future as well?

Of course, that is just the de jure legislative amnesty that the former vice president proposes. He has actually promoted a significant de facto amnesty for foreign nationals currently abroad and almost all aliens in the United States.

With respect to foreign nationals, Biden has vowed to eliminate executive actions taken by the current administration to limit the number of aliens who enter illegally and claim credible fear (as 105,439 migrants did in FY 2019). This, coupled with his promise to relax the current standards for asylum, will provide stronger incentives for foreign nationals to enter the United States in the future (and provide yet another selling point for their prospective smugglers).

There is no reason to believe that Biden will expand the detention of those migrants (his campaign and supporters, in fact, want to decrease detention), and therefore an untold number of foreign nationals would almost definitely enter the United States illegally and be released into this country under a Biden administration.

Once released, there is no reason to believe that they will ever leave. Why do I say that? Because, as I have noted, the former vice president has stated that he will only remove aliens who have committed felonies in the United States (not including DUI), and will fire any ICE officer who transgresses this mandate.

Unless Biden gives way on either the legislative amnesty, the de facto one, or both, that will mean that millions — if not tens of millions — of aliens will remain in and/or enter the United States illegally and stay forever.

That wave of new aliens will fall hardest on the most underprivileged American workers (citizens, nationals, and legal immigrants already here). Those amnestied immigrants will largely have modest levels of education (as my colleague Steven Camarota has explained is true of the current undocumented population), and will probably not have the skills to find high-paying jobs in the 21st century American economy (if they did, they would likely not enter illegally to begin with).

As I have noted previously, the George W. Bush Center (which promotes immigration and contends that it is a "net plus"), admits:

Immigration changes factor prices — it lowers the wages of competing workers, while raising the return to capital and the wages of complementary workers.


Research suggests that previous immigrants suffer more of the adverse wage effects than do natives. Prior immigrants are more like current immigrants.

Research also suggests any negative wage effects are concentrated among low-skilled and not high-skilled workers. Perhaps that is because high-skilled U.S.-born workers are complementary to immigrants to a greater extent than native low-skilled workers, who hold jobs that require less education and fewer language skills.

With respect to those wage effects, the former vice president has stated that he is concerned about such disadvantaged American workers, and therefore supports a $15 minimum wage. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in July 2019 found, however, that a proposal to do just that by 2025 would reduce up to 3.7 million workers over that period, and reduce real family income by $9 billion — changes that "would mainly affect low-income families."

Again, the vast majority of aliens who would benefit from Biden's amnesty proposals would be such low-income families. This is certainly true in the short-term, but likely would be true in the longer term as well, as potential workers would never gain the skills that they need to advance.

It is beyond cavil that politicians make promises on the campaign trail that they end up paring back or fail to keep entirely (Mexico has not paid for the barriers along the Southwest border, as then-candidate Trump vowed, for example). There is likely to be a backlash against many of Biden's amnesty proposals, which have gained little attention during his campaign. I would question whether many Americans are actually in favor of having more criminals in their communities, for example.

But there are certainly political advantages to him and his party from his proposals, as those newly legalized immigrants become citizens and likely to support the party that made their status possible.

I leave it to my more statistically apt colleagues to estimate the effects that these amnesties will have on public benefits and municipal services. But, at least in the short-term, there are likely to be adverse effects, as hospitals have to expand their resources to care for a burgeoning population, and localities have to increase their police, fire, garbage, and social services capacities.

And, inasmuch as the former vice president vows to undo the Trump administration "public charge rule", the effect on public benefits (particularly SNAP, most forms of Medicaid, and Section 8 housing assistance) are likely to be significant, and long- (or at least longer-) lasting.

All of this is dependent on Biden's election, and the make-up of the 117th Congress. As polls suggest that Democrats are likely to sweep to victory in at least the White House and House of Representatives (and quite possibly the Senate, as well), however, the table is all but set for those amnesties to begin.