By Devina Khanna and Angeli Patel
The following post has been split into two for better readability. While this post, part two, focuses on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s policies regarding immigration and racial equity, the first post focuses on healthcare, climate change and the economy.
Joe Biden, as the Democratic Nominee, has come a long way overcoming 29 major Democratic presidential candidates this election. Progressives and centrists alike have rallied around Biden as the best chance at removing Donald Trump from office. Much of Biden’s success has hinged on his ability to calmly navigate attacks from his opponents and present himself as the common sense choice for President.
The Democratic National Convention (DNC) primarily focused programming around unseating Trump once and for all. But equally important to voters will be what Biden will do once he is in office. Biden has shown that he is able to walk the fine line between catering to policy priorities of progressive voters while appeasing his centrist base. Much of what Biden proposes requires funding from a split Congress. While Biden has proposed a wide array of policies, here is what can be expected from a Biden presidency on pressing challenges including immigration, racial equity, and criminal justice reform.
Racial Equity and Criminal Justice Reform
The murder of George Floyd, lack of justice for Breonna Taylor, and, more recently, the shooting of Jacob Blake in the presence of his children have sparked mass protests all over the world placing American politics at crossroads with morality. The movement sparked by these atrocities is arguably the momentum needed to make serious, fundamental changes for racial justice in the U.S.
In the upcoming election, Biden will be pressed to bring about radical reforms as people organize around a rallying cry to “defund the police.” Biden is known for his tough-on-crime policy stance from the 1994 crime bill but has since gone starkly in the opposite direction in his plan for racial justice released at the beginning of his campaign. In his plan, Biden calls to eliminate the death penalty, end cash bail, and end federal use of private prisons. Biden’s attempt to appease centrist, older white voters while keeping up with the demand of progressive voters may explain why Biden falls just short of legalizing marijuana but supporting decriminalization and why he acknowledged the inherent racism in the criminal justice system but immediately opposes defunding the police. Yet, the recent nomination of Kamala Harris, known for her law enforcement background as a prosecutor, is seen as a regression on the promises made in his plan for racial justice.
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There may have never been a louder cry for racial justice than this year. Biden seems to understand the immensity of this moment in his remarks following Floyd’s murder, “We’ve had talk before. We’ve had protests before. Let us vow to make this, at last, an era of action to reverse systemic racism with long overdue and concrete changes.” He went on to take a knee in solidarity with protestors in his home state of Delaware and then virtually-delivered remarks at Floyd’s funeral. Biden appears to have mastered the gestures and public display of empathy that would appeal to progressives and centrists alike.
But absent from this signaling is policy commitments around defunding the police. His plan would put $300 million to invigorate the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program that would put more police officers in marginalized communities. Biden’s plan likely calls for more police than a Republican agenda since the latter tend to be austere on public spending altogether. On the day of the DNC, Biden stated that “most cops are good” and that the problem is the few bad apples that need to be prosecuted. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement might argue that Biden seems to miss the point of movement —that the system is flawed regardless of the people in it.
Biden does promise to take significant steps to lower the national incarceration rate. He would condition $20 billion in grant money to states that eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes, institute earned credit programs, and take other steps to reduce incarceration rates without impacting public safety. Given the complexities involved in addressing historical injustices, Biden’s policies may not be enough to see systemic change.
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The Trump administration has implemented dramatic, and at times, inhumane immigration policies. What began as a “build a wall” campaign to play to his base of voters, morphed into separating children from their parents, then into a ban on visitors from Muslim-majority countries. Most recently, Trump dramatically reduced the number of visas approved almost forcing international students into risking their health in order to stay in the US.
Biden has promised to reverse many of the egregious executive orders. He plans to raise the refugee ceiling and reimplement Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections. While Biden proposes immigration reform legislation, no president has been successful. Biden’s plan includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and a fast track for immigrants who work in agriculture. However, key progressives demand more from Biden like abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and lowering deportation rates that skyrocketed under the Obama-Biden Administration. Biden has criticized Trump for criminalizing unauthorized border crossings which often result in prison sentences, but his plan is silent on decriminalizing such crossings. Instead, Biden proposes border screening by implementing technology at border checkpoints, an idea which has received backlash from progressives and privacy advocates. To cater to the STEM workforce, his proposal would also expand visas for high-skilled workers and create an easier path to citizenship.
The path ahead for Biden is much tougher than it is for Trump. He will be tasked with both appealing to the same uncertain voters that Trump won over in the past, while also inspiring a growing number of progressive Democrats to come out and vote. Biden, the DNC and voters will all be pressed to balance policy priorities with politics.
Read the first part of this post here.