Jan 26, 2021

Joe Biden's immigration plan.

Joe Biden's immigration plan.

Plus, how has Tangle changed my politics?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free, subscribe for Friday editions and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 14 minutes.

Joe Biden’s immigration plan. Plus, one of my favorite reader questions ever.

The border wall between the U.S. and Mexico under construction in Arizona. Photo: Gillfoto

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Reader feedback.

Tom from Reykjavík, Iceland, wrote in and asked “What have I done to deserve getting Andrew Sullivan quotes in my inbox? He is clever, but disingenuous as always.”

Tom replied to this piece of Sullivan’s writing:

“Without ‘equity,’ the argument runs, there can be no real ‘equality of opportunity.’ Equity therefore comes first. Until equity is reached, equality is postponed — perhaps forever… You don’t get to unite the country by dividing it along these deep and inflammatory issues of identity.”

“I mean, look at this,” Tom wrote. “Sentence one: relatively accurate synopsis of the argument, ‘scare quotes’ aside. Sentence 2: Simplification — roughly correct, but lacking context. Sentence 3: Total misrepresentation, supported by the simplification in sentence 2, but obviously wrong when compared to sentence 1. This is the written form of stage magic, and he has misdirected us from the point. The argument is not that we should postpone equality in favor of equity, it is that equality is not possible without addressing equity. Feel free to disagree with that — I’d appreciate that discussion — but at least engage with the actual idea instead of pretending the left wants equity instead of equality.

“I’m not even sure how to address the last sentence. It is, I believe a straw man (the point is to unite the country), tautology (can’t unite by dividing), unsupported premise (addressing equity is dividing).”

Several readers also sent in Emily Atkin’s piece on the claims that Biden stopping pipelines would cost thousands of jobs. Atkin is a well-known climate change reporter and argued that these jobs did not yet exist, and that the right-wing framing of them being “lost” was misleading. It’s an intriguing piece, and as someone who reads Atkin’s newsletter, I regret not including it.

Quick hits.

  1. Sen. Mitch McConnell is dropping his demand that a new power-sharing agreement include a provision protecting the filibuster after two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) — said they’d protect a 60-vote requirement for major legislation. (NPR)
  2. California has lifted stay-at-home orders after the state saw an increase in ICU bed capacity. The 7-day average of U.S. coronavirus cases is down approximately 30% in the last two weeks. (Associated Press)
  3. The Senate easily confirmed Janet Yellen as treasury secretary yesterday, making her the first woman to lead the Treasury Department. (Fox Business)
  4. President Biden set a goal of 1.5 million vaccinations a day and placed travel restrictions on 29 countries, including South Africa, Brazil and many European nations, to mitigate the spread of a new strain of COVID-19. (The New York Times, free because it’s COVID-19 content)
  5. Ahead of his impeachment trial, former President Trump is signaling to Republicans he has no intention of starting another political party. (Politico)

What D.C. is talking about.

Joe Biden’s immigration plan. Biden signed executive actions and unveiled legislation to overhaul our immigration system last week. The plan is more than just a reversal of Donald Trump’s policies — it’s an attempt to push his administration to the left of the Obama administration when Biden was vice president. Back then, Obama and Biden were criticized harshly by Latino and progressive activists for squandering a Senate and House majority while overseeing millions of deportations — more than Trump in his first three years.

Along with the executive orders, which we covered yesterday, the legislation does a few things: Most notably, it creates an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who are here illegally as of January 1st, 2021. The process would require a green card application, five years until temporary status if they pay their taxes and pass background checks, and then citizenship applications three years later.

It would also:

  • Permit some of the immigrants deported during the Trump administration to return to the U.S. to reunite with their families or for other humanitarian reasons
  • Preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that protects undocumented immigrants brought here as children, and give them a three-year path to citizenship
  • Expand the number of green cards available to employment-based programs
  • Provide work permits to dependents of people who hold H-1B visas
  • Increase the number of judges in the immigration court system
  • Eliminate the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications and authorize funding for legal counsel for vulnerable populations like migrant children
  • Authorize regional processing centers in Central America to process people for refugee resettlement

Biden also signed several executive actions addressing immigration, including a 100-day moratorium on deportations for certain noncitizens, a pause on sending asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for hearings, an end to the ban on entry from several majority-Muslim countries, and a termination of the border wall funding, among others.

While immigration took a backseat in 2020, it was still the central issue that drove the 2016 election — and still a hot button topic for the right and left. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the reactions to Biden’s plan.

What the left is saying.

The left is supportive of the bill. While there are concerns about blowback to it, it’s mostly being celebrated as a reversal of the draconian policies that dominated the Trump era.

The Washington Post editorial board says the plan “would really put America first.”

“It responds to the challenge of population stagnation. It would reverse his predecessor’s extravagantly cruel policies. And it is now clear that when it comes to immigration, Mr. Biden is all in,” the board said. “The plan is also smart. The U.S. population growth rate in the just-ended decade was the lowest since the first national census in 1790, according to the Brookings Institution — lower even than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The number of Americans below the age of 18 actually shrank in the 2010s, by more than 1 million.

“What’s more, by proposing an eight-year path to citizenship for most of the nation’s 11 million unauthorized migrants — the centerpiece of his plan — Mr. Biden is attempting to align law and reality,” they wrote. “By 2029, when they would be eligible for citizenship, most will have been in the United States for more than a quarter-century. At least 4 million are essential workers in construction, food processing, groceries, restaurants, agriculture and transportation — doing jobs critical to practically every American.”

The Houston Chronicle editorial board wrote favorably about the plan, even though it expressed skepticism Congress would actually take it up and pass it.

“Actual immigration reform — the durable kind that requires legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the president — has proven devilishly difficult over the years, and there’s little reason to think this time will be any different,” it wrote. “The hard part remains: Convincing Congress to find a permanent solution, and to address the estimated 11 million immigrants who live and work in the U.S. without proper documentation, including an estimated 1.7 million in Texas… Biden and company must make the case that our immigration policies not only ‘are in line with our values and priorities,’ but also are sensible. They must make sense to the Energy Corridor high-tech company that needs workers from overseas, to the Brazoria County farmer who relies on seasonal workers, to the aspiring medical student from India or Nigeria or China who will inevitably contribute to this community.”

In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeff Gammage argued the bill would allow immigrants to step out from the shadows.

“People may think of undocumented migrants as separate from society, the ‘illegals’ that the Trump administration routinely denounced, but their lives are intermeshed with those of their neighbors,” he wrote. “About 1.6 million undocumented people are married to U.S. citizens, and an additional 675,000 are wed to lawful permanent residents, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. About 4.4 million U.S.-citizen children have at least one undocumented parent.

“More than a third of all undocumented speak only English or speak it very well,” he added. “And, again defying stereotypes, many are well-educated. About 20% have a four-year college degree, compared with one-third of the overall U.S. population, MPI found. Sixty percent have lived in the United States for at least a decade.”

What the right is saying.

The right is opposed to the bill and the executive orders, arguing that amnesty for illegal immigrants and a pause on deportations amounts to an open border policy, and that Biden’s posture as a whole is sure to inflame the right.

Ramesh Ponnuru wrote in Bloomberg that the bill has no shot, saying “this is not going to pass Congress.”

“The tragedy of Biden’s choice is that even in today’s polarized politics, a bipartisan deal on immigration ought to be possible,” he argued. “Republicans are open in principle to providing legal status for some illegal immigrants. Cotton himself sponsored legislation to legalize those who came here as minors. Democrats, for the most part, have not shut the door to requiring employers to verify that new hires are legal.

“A deal that included both measures — legalization for a large share of the illegal-immigrant population and enforcement focused on employers — might have a chance of breaking the decades-long impasse on immigration,” he added. “Republicans would then have less fear that legalization would be followed by more illegal immigration and then another round of legalization in the future.”

The National Review editorial board strongly opposed the bill, saying the promise “in past legislation was to implement enforcement provisions before or alongside an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Biden’s plan doesn’t even bother pretending. It discusses upgrading technology at the border, the bare minimum of enforcement window-dressing, while proposing an amnesty for more than 10 million people.

“Although the details are yet to be written into legislation, it’s hard to exaggerate how sweeping this proposal is,” they wrote. “It would apply not just to illegal immigrants who have been here for years and become embedded in their communities, but to illegal immigrants who showed up the day before yesterday — the cutoff for the amnesty is January 1, 2021… Biden doesn’t want to give temporary legal status to illegal immigrants. He wants to give them green cards and then, after a period of years, make them eligible for citizenship. This would precipitate a wave of follow-on immigration. Green-card holders can petition for spouses and minor children to come to the United States, while citizens can petition for parents and siblings, as well.”

In The Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady criticized Biden’s decision to put a moratorium on deportations and end the remain-in-Mexico policy for asylum seekers, noting that Trump had the most success stemming immigration by coordinating with Guatemalan and Mexican leaders. But she also proposed more legal pathways for entry.

“Mr. Biden wants a more humane approach to immigration than either of his predecessors… The only answer to this quandary is to open more legal pathways,” she said. “Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration analyst at the Cato Institute, recommends an increase in the number of H-2 guest-worker visas for Central Americans since many asylum claimants are really migrants looking for work. When this was done for Mexico, Mr. Nowrasteh noted in July 2019, there was a corresponding drop in illegal immigration.

“Greater opportunity to work legally would break the vicious circle behind the chaos, and calm the fears that arise from what looks like a threat to U.S. national security.”

My take.

If I were scoring elements of this plan on “importance” vs. “attention it’s getting,” the greatest divergence between the two would come on Biden’s call to expand the number of judges in the immigration system. And it’s not close.

This is, in my opinion, the single most important fix to solving our immigration system’s issues. I wrote about it in a 2018 Reddit AMA and was surprised to see how much positive reception it got from an otherwise hostile-toward-illegal-immigration readership. The reason is obvious: backlogs in immigration create delays, which in turn create incentives to come illegally, which lead to more illegal crossings and overstays, more arrests and deportations, and more backlogs, which starts the whole cycle all over again.

In the end, we’re left with absolute chaos. Asylum seekers with legal cause to enter the U.S. struggle to get in front of a judge, the small percentage of dangerous immigrants here illegally get lost in the system, families and children get separated indiscriminately, and around we go. I’m thrilled to see this as part of Biden’s proposal, and I hope it remains a centerpiece of whatever legislation ultimately gets through — even if it’s piece by piece, as Biden has said he’s open to.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I also support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are here.

That position is born not just out of policy opinion, but personal experience and family history. I genuinely cannot think of a single thing undocumented immigrants have done to make my life worse. Other people have had other experiences, but this is mine: I live in a city with over 500,000 undocumented immigrants who enrich every part of my life. I get a thrill out of hearing a dozen different languages on the way to work, or seeing cultures intertwined at the local bodega, or meeting a new friend from a country I’ve barely heard of, or getting opportunities to taste a recipe that was crafted 5,000 miles away in a country I may never get a chance to see in person.

My own ancestors snuck into this country to make a better life for themselves and escape hardship in the place they were born. Many of yours probably did, too. My Jewish lineage is full of people who were once scorned by the American public, deemed a threat to society and a gross burden on the nation. My Quaker lineage is full of people who fought for the equal treatment of indigenous people and immigrants alike.

Of course, a nation is not a nation without borders. Biden’s plan is not perfect — no piece of legislation is, and in this case, we don’t even have the legislation yet, just the overarching goals. Moratoriums on deportations and open doors on the southern border are risky propositions in normal times, but during a global pandemic, they’re downright irresponsible. The fear and anger over these policies are understandable for anyone who has been locked inside for 11 months, is desperately counting our country’s vaccinations and hoping for a day to re-enter the real world.

But migrants aren’t lepers. They’re normal people. I’ve said here before and will say it again that my north star is empathy. I feel that empathy for those who have lost work to undocumented immigrants willing to do it for less, or lost a child to a crime committed by someone who wasn’t a citizen. But undocumented immigrants are pretty unlikely to be taking your jobs, and those crimes are truly few and far between — far fewer than those caused by the native-born. In my view, these downsides do not outweigh, in net, the value we receive from opening legal pathways to citizenship. Not just culturally, not just morally, but economically too: growth, taxes, productivity, all of it.

I know undocumented immigrants, I know the lives of fear they’re living — many of whom have been here for decades and done little else but work to feed their families. I know the privileged, too: the well-off undocumented immigrants stuck in a tornado of paperwork, doing everything right, trying to legalize a marriage to a spouse, or accept a job offer or finalize an adoption, only to be drowned by a broken, slow-moving, impossible system. Anyone who thinks it’s as simple as “get in line” probably hasn’t immigrated here in the last 10 or 20 years, and anyone who thinks what we have now is “working” hasn’t been paying attention for decades. We need an overhaul, and Biden’s plan is a good place to start.

Your questions, answered.

Q: From what I can tell, you’ve operated Tangle for a little over a year now.  In the few months since I subscribed, my views have been challenged, and I have gained a new understanding of people I don’t agree with. I’m curious to hear what you get out of this and from feedback from your readers. What are some of your favorite things about Tangle, and what was an example of you rethinking your stance on an issue — even if you ultimately didn’t change your stance?

— William, Fort Smith, Arkansas

Tangle: My favorite part is that my views change every day. Oftentimes, my views change on an issue while I’m writing the actual day’s issue. That happened today, actually, as I read many of the arguments from the right about creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and found them far less convincing than the arguments from the left. I believe that evolving a stance when presented with new evidence is a virtue, so long as it's done for honest reasons, and my views have changed more in the last year or two than at any other time in my life — I feel like a more complete, empathetic, understanding and intelligent person because of Tangle.

Generally speaking, immigration may actually be the topic on which my position has moved the most. I have many readers who are undocumented or foreign-born and have written in to tell me their stories. I have many readers who are legal immigrants and shared what it was like for them to come here. I also have many readers who are legal immigrants and want to “pull up the ladder” on those behind them. I was always opposed to the border wall, but the sum of their views has made me more empathetic to the left’s position on immigration as a whole.

The thing I’ve been struck by the most when writing this newsletter is the culture of fear that permeates conservatism. Liberals like to scoff at claims of “cancel culture,” and I myself have criticized misleading cries of censorship, but I hear every single day from people with run-of-the-mill, right-of-center political views who are legitimately scared to express those views to friends, colleagues or family. Every single day. Mostly because they’ve seen so many like-minded people lose jobs or be scorned socially for their politics. I’m not even talking about diehard Trump supporters, but people who believe that rioting should always be condemned, or that there are only two genders, or are generally pro-life; views they’ve watched become unacceptable to millions in the last decade.

A lot of these Americans are now truly unwilling to enter any kind of political discourse about their positions, and thus excluded from the possibility of having their views evolve, because they are terrified of the repercussions. Far, far more people feel this way than I had previously imagined, and many of them have graciously written into Tangle to express that this has become a special place for them to engage freely.

Similarly surprising, I’ve also encountered a shocking amount of blithe, unaware, casual racism. Specifically, on issues of criminal justice reform, which I’ve always cared deeply about, I’ve realized that — if anything — Black Americans may be understating the kinds of things they encounter in daily life. The number of emails I’ve gotten chalking up crime in minority communities to genetics or rap music or innate behavior or cultural deficits is truly disheartening.

At the same time, while my belief in needed police reform remains intact, my empathy for police officers has grown substantially. Wives of cops have emailed about what their lives are like, retired sheriffs have written to me about the lessons they’ve learned, and dozens of research papers have been exchanged on the prevalence of violence against or from an officer — many of those exchanges have tempered some of my criticisms, too. It’s an extremely difficult, dangerous job, with challenging reforms to implement, and I’ve become less sure about how to fix it properly.

As I’ve moved mostly leftward on immigration, I’ve probably moved most to the right on modern free speech issues (one could argue free speech is a traditionally liberal position). The number of emails I’ve gotten from people on the left who found benign expressions or turns of phrase in my writing offensive, or demanded I not publish a specific writer, has been — at times — bewildering. I’m certain my whiteness or more centrist politics are part of that, but I’m also certain we’re living in a time of heightened public sensitivity about everything. I’ve come to loathe “the mob” (which is on the left and right, by the way) that seeks to destroy rather than convince. I’ve found the left’s unwillingness to create pathways to redemption unsustainable and counterproductive, and many of my most conservative readers have helped re-shape those views for me.

One issue I continue to waver on is guns. I find both the sheer number of firearms and the kinds of weapons in our country to be obscene, nearly as gross as the sheer level of violence we tolerate. I also love shooting guns, I enjoy being around them, I sometimes wish I could own a gun, and I am made uncomfortable by the prospect of an unarmed populace as our federal government and police continue to attain increased power. The left’s basic ignorance of guns, or what even constitutes an assault rifle, is as annoying as the right’s bizarre military cosplay obsession. I haven’t yet written much about gun reform in Tangle, but it’s sure to be an issue in the next four years, and I’m looking forward to engaging it.

And, as corny as it is, I’ve been most moved by the goodness out there. For every person hammering me for an expression they found offensive, there are dozens saying Tangle has made them more sympathetic to positions they disagree with. For every email laced with casual racism, there are dozens thanking me for exposing them to the views of a person of color they hadn’t heard or considered before. Hundreds of emails a week come in from people saying this is the news they’ve been looking for, or that Tangle calms them down, or that they finally feel as if they’re getting the full story.

Truly, there are thousands — and probably millions — of like-minded people genuinely interested in views they don’t agree with, genuinely wanting to have difficult conversations, genuinely hoping to see a better country come to fruition in their lifetimes. So many of my readers are also outside the U.S., just people with a brilliant curiosity about the world who want to understand what the hell is going on here. That reality has reaffirmed my wildest hopes for what this can be.

A story that matters.

President Joe Biden says he is going to reopen federal marketplaces selling Affordable Care Act health plans as soon as Thursday. The orders mark the first steps Biden has taken to expand access to health insurance and will include moves like reopening HealthCare.gov to people who can’t afford employer-based insurance. Typically, the programs are restricted for enrollment to a six-week period, but Biden plans to reopen them temporarily because of the pandemic. He is also crafting an executive order in response to Trump-era changes that allowed states to impose work requirements on Medicaid eligibility, but it’s unclear yet exactly what those changes are. (The Washington Post, subscription)


  • 44%. The percentage of Israeli residents who have now gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
  • 26%. The percentage of U.A.E. residents who have now gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
  • 19%. The percentage of Seychelles residents who have now gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
  • 10%. The percentage of United Kingdom residents who have now gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
  • 8%. The percentage of Bahrainian residents who have now gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
  • 7%. The percentage of American residents who have now gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
  • 2%. The percentage of E.U. residents who have now gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.


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A principal in Charleston, South Carolina, has gone above and beyond to help his students. Henry Darby quietly picked up three overnight shifts at Walmart — on top of his day job as a principal — in order to help raise money for his students struggling during the pandemic. Darby decided to take up the extra work and donate his paychecks to his students as a way to pay forward the charity he received growing up when both of his parents died. When news of Darby’s second job spread around town, a GoFundMe started that has since raised over $51,000 to donate to Darby’s students. (The Post and Courier)

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