Opinion | What Biden Is Still Getting Wrong on Immigration

Migrant workers in America are in limbo. It’s time to change things.












Produced by ‘The Argument’

Our immigration system is broken. So is the way we talk about it.

Most conversations about immigration come down to a yes-or-no debate. Two sides talking over each other with very little constructive and achievable propositions. That might be part of the reason that little effective reform has made its way through Congress in the past 20 years, despite calls from both Democrats and Republicans for an overhaul.

In reality, immigration is a complicated system and there’s no easy answer to the problems it entails. This week, Jane Coaston breaks down one group of approaches that could have a significant impact on individuals and families who want to enter the United States: temporary work programs.

[You can listen to this episode of “The Argument” on Apple, Spotify or Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

These programs allow migrants to come to the United States to work based on the labor needs of certain industries. And because their legal status is tied to employment, workers are beholden to their bosses and the companies that hire them. Oftentimes, the companies use that power to take advantage of workers.

The guests today analyze these programs and debate whether they should be expanded without other changes or what reforms are necessary to ensure workers aren’t exploited. Michael Clemens is an economist and the director of migration, displacement and humanitarian policy at the Center for Global Development. Daniel Costa is a human rights lawyer and the director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute.

Mentioned in this episode:

Daniel Costa’s paper “Temporary Migrant Workers or Immigrants? The Question for U.S. Labor Migration”

Michael Clemens’s study on the Bracero program in a paper he co-wrote called “Immigration Restrictions as Active Labor Market Policy”

“Making President Trump’s Bed: A Housekeeper Without Papers” in The New York Times

“The Fixer: Visa Lottery Chronicles” by Charles Piot with Kodjo Nicolas Batema

(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)

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“The Argument” is produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Alison Bruzek and Sarah Geis; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones; additional engineering by Carole Sabouraud; additional mixing by Sonia Herrero; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.

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