Flexible policy needed to respond to flood of immigrants at border: MPI director

MPI director Muzaffar Chishti. Photo by Marivir Montebon

By Marivir Montebon

A senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in New York cited the need for Congress to craft a flexible immigration policy to match new immigrants with the U.S. labor needs. He cited New Jersey as a good example.

Muzaffar Chishti, director of MPI at the New York University School of Law, said there is clearly a need for more flexibility to respond to the crisis at the borders. The overflow of immigrants has now seeped into the interiors of the U.S., and bleeding states of their budgets, he said.

“But Congress is not allowing us to do it. Congress has not acted on immigration since 1990. The world has changed three times since 1990. Our immigration laws haven’t. So that’s what the aspiration for all of us is to have an immigration selection system which matches our need,” he said during a media forum by the Center for Cooperative Media of the Montclair State University in New Jersey.

New Jersey as an example for flexibility

Chishti, a lawyer and author, lauded New Jersey for its flexibility during the pandemic.  He said, “New Jersey should get a big salute. And your governor should get a big salute during COVID. It was, I think, the first and probably then the only state, which allowed doctors who did not have U.S. credentials to be able to practice medicine during that time. And we should really see how that could become a national phenomenon.”

Chishti also emphasized for U.S. immigration to do a better job at credentialling.  “We don’t want people who are really trained to be driving cabs. And that is not a good use of their time. It’s not good for us.”

With an overflowing border, states have increased their fiscal budgets to accommodate new immigrants. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has created the Office of New Americans in 2019 with legal assistance, housing, health, and social programs in place to the tune of $8.2million.

Johanna Calle, director of Office of New Americans New Jersey. Photo provided by the Center for Cooperative Media

According to Johanna Calle, director at the NJ Office of New Americans, Department of Human Services, the pandemic made it challenging for her office to reach out to newly arrived immigrants, considering language and cultural barriers.

New Jersey is a diverse state with an immigrant population of 2.2 million. Over 20% of its population are foreign born. It is home to the largest population of Filipinos on the East Coast.

New York and New Jersey experienced the surge of immigrants from Venezuela bused in from Florida and Texas in the last quarter of 2022. They have also been a refuge to immigrants from Ukraine and Turkey.

“Immigration is very complicated with many different populations that are arriving in our state through various ways such as asylum seekers, refugees, naturalized citizens, new arrivals,” said Calle.

Biden’s delayed response

Chishti criticized the Biden administration’s “late” response to the border crisis. “I think President Biden woke up to that a little too late,” citing that it was not enough to apportion the cost of education, social, and legal support for new immigrants.

It was only in the beginning of January that two policies were in place, he said.  The first one is a parole program for Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, and Nicaragua where 30,000 slots a month are allotted for beneficiaries which gives them the right to stay and work in the U.S. legally.  

The second policy is the change of asylum rules, which remains to be enforced and assessed.

Chishti explained: “The Biden administration has proposed a new rule under which you can seek asylum at the border, but only if you come at a port of entry, or with an appointment, which you can schedule on an app called the CBP app. And if you show up between ports of entry, technically called unlawful between ports of entry, you will be presumed to be ineligible for asylum.”

The program intends to incentivize people to come to the ports of entry to create order for the system.

“I don’t know if the proposal will be finally implemented and whether to pass the legal test. But I do think that it is the right direction to bring some orderly nature to the challenge at the border.”

Chishti said U.S. politicians need to have a common understanding of the increasing influx of migrants into the border to be able to respond to the crisis which has resulted in billions of dollars in fiscal budgets of receiving states.

“There is a crisis at the border,” he said. “Whether we think this is a humanitarian crisis, or whether we think it’s a crisis just precipitated by one administration, it is a crisis. And the crisis now has been brought from the border into the interior of the country.”

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