The growing assertions of nativism and white supremacy in the United States have caused increased restrictions on immigration. These restrictions constitute one of the root causes of the current labor shortage and inflation. Many of the anti-immigrant policies that defined the Trump administration have continued under the Biden administration.
According to a recent report from the Associated Press, there are two million fewer immigrants due to policies like Title 42, which has misused public health codes to block asylum seekers from presenting a credible fear argument at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Other policies have dismantled our refugee resettlement program, narrowed family immigration visas, and limited the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. As a result, we have seen a scramble for workers in many sectors—from meatpacking to homebuilding—that is also contributing to supply shortages and price increases. President Biden has talked about an “Industrial Renaissance” to be realized through the production of microchips to meet shortages, but that won’t work without an increase of “highly skilled” workers. The George W. Bush Institute agrees that “Immigration has net benefits. The fact that it has some costs is not a reason to bar it, but rather to manage it.”
The Biden administration has made a lackluster attempt at ending Title 42, but Republican states have sued and won a preliminary injunction to keep it in place. Additionally, bipartisan legislation that would keep this unjust policy in place for years to come, like as the Lankford-Sinema bill, has some support from moderate Democrats (see UCC Action Alert to Congress). Meanwhile, many asylum seekers with no friends or families here find themselves out on the streets unable to get work permits for months or years.
Many faith communities across traditions who recognize the sacred call to welcome those fleeing persecution are working to accompany asylum seekers, but they have met significant challenges that are costing increased volunteer capacity and financial resources at a difficult time during the pandemic for congregations. The legal fees required to try to win an asylum case can run from 10,000 to 25,000 dollars. Meanwhile, the basic needs of housing and food are increasing and many asylum seekers cannot get a work permit. Many of those who fled their homes did so because of threats to their lives by gangs and may have even seen family members killed by similar threats. However, they will still lose their cases because they don’t have the proper documents and evidence to win.
No family fleeing persecution should be detained or left on the street. The U.S. government has the resources and capacity to humanely receive asylum seekers by funding a case management system through community based nonprofits and refugee agencies that can provide legal support, housing coordination, and employment services. The Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties recently launched a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for five million dollars to fund the Case Management Pilot Program (CMPP), but this program must be further expanded rapidly.
It’s true that the asylum system is not the right fit for many families fleeing dangerous situations, who will not meet the courts’ high standards for asylum, and these persons cannot afford to wait years for processing. Instead, we need immigration reform that adjusts the status of undocumented people already living and working here, but that also creates avenues for future flows of migration. Unfortunately, the political outlook is grim because so many politicians have ceded the moral ground of what’s right for what’s popular to a constituency that has found themselves clutching to a false and dangerous narrative and nostalgia for a time of segregation and racism that was even more intense than today’s version. We will not be able to solve the economic problems of today’s inflation without addressing our history of racism and engaging with the various ways in which this history impacts our leaders’ inability to pass legislation that will actually help this country and facilitate the embrace of diversity rather than fear of it.