On a first day crowded with possibilities, President Joe Biden took time Wednesday to send Congress a sweeping immigration proposal that could bring millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, giving them a path to citizenship in a country that has accepted their labor but long withheld legal validation.
It is as dramatic a signal as any Biden could have chosen to demonstrate that his will be a different type of leadership and values. Before and during his entire presidency, Donald Trump demonized and scapegoated immigrants, targeting them with needlessly harsh policies.
Throughout the pandemic, undocumented immigrants have labored in some of the most COVID-vulnerable industries: in meatpacking plants, under employers that too often compromised their safety; in restaurants and retail stores; in janitorial jobs and other roles. They have suffered disproportionately from COVID and the vulnerability that came with their lack of legal status.
Families seeking asylum were torn apart at the border. So-called Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought here as children — have lived too long under the threat of deportation, as have other immigrant groups here under temporary programs.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board has long supported immigration reform. Ending the exploitation and offering a path to citizenship is a humane gesture that also has economic benefits for a nation facing a generational shift in the workforce.
It should be noted that under Biden's plan applicants would face a five-year process in which they would have to pass background checks, pay taxes, pay fees and meet other requirements before getting even a green card. Then would begin a three-year path to full citizenship. Imposing some requirements is appropriate and should go a long way toward easing objections.
Biden's efforts to turn back the approach of his predecessor go far beyond the legalization proposal, which requires congressional approval.
By executive order Biden ended Trump's cruel travel ban aimed at restricting travel from majority Muslim countries, writing that the ban "jeopardized our global network of alliances and partnerships" and is a "moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over." In its place, he said, would be "a rigorous, individualized vetting system."
Security threats would be addressed, he said, "but we will not turn our backs on our values with discriminatory bans on entry into the United States." Visa processing will resume, easing the way for legitimate travelers, students and businesspeople. Biden is also preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects undocumented immigrants brought here as children from deportation and allows them to obtain work permits.
Biden, thankfully, is also putting a stop to one of the most hateful signatures of the Trump era: the wall. Laughably obsolete before it was even begun, a border wall became an obsession of Trump's. When it became evident that Mexico was never going to pay, he resorted to raiding other budgets for the money that Congress declined to authorize. There are other, far more effective ways to tighten security at the nation's borders and ports.
Democrats and Republicans should come together on a sophisticated, targeted security plan while also providing a compassionate, humane path to citizenship for those whose greatest wish is to be called Americans.