Cato At Liberty
After Joe Biden won the Democratic Party nomination, he made no adjustments to his aggressively pro‐immigration agenda. Some ideas—a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants—have long been standard Democratic Party positions, but Biden’s ideas went far beyond this. Biden’s platform was probably as pro‐immigrant as any winning candidate since Abraham Lincoln. Yet despite repeated attacks by President Trump, Biden stuck to his message—even on border and asylum issues which many see as the most difficult politically. With public opinion on immigration even further on his side than the presidential vote count, he has absolutely no reason to back down now.
Biden Stuck to a Pro‐Immigrant Message
The most remarkable moment in this campaign for me as an immigration analyst was when President Trump attacked Biden in the second presidential debate for the Obama‐Biden administration allowing what he calls “catch and release” of immigrants at the border. Rather than pivoting back to normal Democratic attacks about Trump’s child separation policy, Biden took Trump’s bait and launched into an extended defense of exactly what Trump was attacking him for—even going so far as to counter‐attack Trump for forcing Central American asylum seekers to live homeless in dangerous cities in Mexico.
Without Trump’s anti‐asylum policies, it is inevitable that the United States will have a very significant increase in immigrants requesting asylum. Of all the Trump policies, I believed—as many analysts still do—that these asylum restrictions would be the most difficult politically for Biden to end. Yet Biden took his few minutes on a national debate stage to assert that he’s willing to embrace greater acceptance of asylum seekers as a good thing. If the new administration accepts them all at ports of entry, grants them status and employment authorization, there will not even be the issue of immigrants breaking the law to create any potential political liability.
Little Reason to Change
Now that he appears to have beaten President Trump, will Biden suddenly reverse? It’s possible. It wouldn’t be the first time that Biden has flipped on immigration. But he absolutely no political reason to change. He won on a pro‐immigrant message. House Democrats won on a pro‐immigrant message.
Moreover, Biden is assuming office at a time when the public has never been more sympathetic to the pro‐immigrant cause. For the first time in its 55‐year history, Gallup’s immigration poll found more support for increasing than decreasing immigration (Figure 1). Support for immigration grows when Gallup only asks about legal immigration. More than three quarters tell Gallup that they believe immigration is a good thing. Pew Research Center polls find that large majorities reject that the arguments immigrants increase crime, that they tax the welfare state, and that they do not assimilate. Trump has actually lost ground even among Republicans on his anti‐immigration message, as I explained here.
Even the old President Obama advisors who oversaw the most deportations ever and will likely resurface in a Biden administration understand that they have a mandate from Biden to gut and replace Trump’s anti‐immigrant agenda in a way that they did not until very late in Obama’s term. I fully expect that the agencies will go beyond reversing them and create even better processes for immigrants—legal or otherwise. He will also push aggressively for Congress to enact legislation to create a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and expand legal immigration.
Potential Problem Areas
The most likely problem areas for Biden are on guest worker visas. Biden said he wanted to make the H-2A and H-2B guest worker programs for lesser skilled seasonal jobs less “cumbersome, bureaucratic, and inflexible.” Moreover, Biden “will support expanding the number of high‐skilled visas.” But in both cases, he also falls into the erroneous labor union narrative that these visas can hurt U.S. workers and calls for strong enforcement of the “prevailing wage”—a made‐up governmental minimum wage for foreign workers.
In the case of the H-1B skilled worker visa, Biden specifically calls for greater restrictions on “entry level wages”—which could effectively stop the hiring of foreign college graduates by U.S. companies. Since nearly all employer‐sponsored foreign workers enter first on temporary visas, restricting them would do very significant harm to both employers, foreign workers, and U.S. workers in complementary positions.
Overall, Biden has given immigrant advocates a reason for optimism. He faced down President Trump’s attacks and doubled down on his pro‐immigrant positions. He may impose new restrictions on guest workers and not follow through on every campaign promise, but he will restart a legal immigration system that has almost entirely been stopped by this administration, and he will generally make positive reforms beyond that.
Looking at 2020 Initiative Results: A Pretty Good Day for Liberty
The presidential contest may not be officially decided for days yet, but lower down on the ballot, it looks like a very good election for libertarians and other supporters of limited government.
The War on Drugs took a major hit. In fact, every initiative to legalize drugs passed, including proposals to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi, recreational marijuana in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, to decriminalize hallucinogenic plants in Washington, DC, as well as a far‐reaching measure to decriminalize all drugs – including cocaine, heroin, and LSD – in Oregon.
Voters also preferred lower income tax rates, with Coloradans voting to decrease the state income tax, and even Illinois voters rejected a graduated income tax.
There were victories on several civil liberties fronts as well. Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, amending the state constitution to protect electronic data and communications in the same way the law protects our homes and papers from unreasonable search and seizure. In Alabama, voters removed racist language from their state constitution, while in Mississippi, voters approved a new state flag without Confederate symbolism, and Nevada voters removed a ban on same‐sex marriage. These later changes were largely symbolic, of course, but symbols matter.
And, to top it off, the first Libertarian was elected to a state legislature in a generation, with Marshall Burt in Wyoming.
As usual, California had several high profile ballot measures. Cato’s Project on Poverty and Inequality in California was watching several of them closely.
Possibly the biggest question put to California voters, Prop. 15, would have changed property tax rules for commercial properties, resulting in an overall tax increase of $7.5–12 billion. At the time of writing, the outcome of Prop. 15 is probably too close to call, in keeping with tight polling ahead of the election.
Ahead of the election, we were looking closely at Prop. 22, which would make significant changes to 2019’s Assembly Bill 5. AB 5 would have required employers in many industries to classify workers as employees, rather than independent contractors, making them subject to additional requirements including mandated benefits and minimum wages. It would be an oversimplification to reduce AB 5 to a battle over app‐based rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft – the law affects workers in numerous other industries, from yoga teachers to newspaper deliverers – but the rideshare industry played a significant part in the AB 5 debate from the beginning. Prop. 22 looks set to pass by a relatively wide margin, and will exempt rideshare companies from AB 5’s mandates. There are two main takeaways from this: first, voters have shown that they like the new services that tech companies are providing, and don’t want new regulations to prevent them from accessing those services. Admittedly, there’s some level of ambiguity here – California’s Prop. 24 looks set to institute new data regulations on tech companies – but the calculus on Prop 22 was simple: if it passed, rideshare companies would dramatically pull back, if not leave entirely, from California. Second, now that numerous industries have received carve‐outs from AB 5, whether at the ballot box (as rideshare did) or in the legislature (like musicians did) or in the original bill (like lawyers did), California’s legislators should go back to the drawing board. Retroactively installing loopholes in a law encourages the worst excesses of crony capitalism, even if the original law was a bad one. There’s a path forward on rules for independent contractors, but it requires legislators to admit that they got it wrong – and got on the wrong side of voters – the first time around.
Two other initiatives we were watching failed by quite large margins. Prop. 20 and Prop. 21 were both repeats of earlier ballot initiatives: Prop. 20 would have rolled back the criminal justice reforms enacted by 2014’s Prop. 47 and 2016’s Prop. 57. Props. 47 and 57 were major reforms to the criminal justice system, and contributed to a significant enough reduction in the number of incarcerated people that California is in a position to close two state prisons in the near future. Prop. 21 is a slightly‐modified version of 2018’s failed Prop. 10, and would have allowed local governments much more authority to enact rent control policies. So far, it looks like Prop. 21 will fail by a narrower margin than Prop. 10 did, which could mean that voters are either more concerned about rent increases now, or that they were receptive to some of the changes in the initiative’s drafting. Either way, California voters have held the door firmly shut to new local rent control policies, just a year after the legislature enacted a statewide cap on rent increases.
One last proposition is worth discussing as well: Prop. 25 was a referendum on SB 10, which would have eliminated cash bail and replaced it with a risk assessment system. It looks like Prop. 25 – that is to say, SB 10 – has failed, and California’s bail system will remain as‐is for now. It’s worth noting that criminal justice reformers were split on the changes. Some argued that the new risk‐assessment system may have some of the same problems as the existing system. The law wasn’t very specific about how to determine who is released or held in jail before a trial, and some reformers were concerned that those determinations would reflect racial biases. Given that SB 10 managed to pass in the first place, it’s clear that there’s desire for reform, but legislators should take this as a time to start over, and perhaps more clearly and intentionally design a new system that takes into account lessons learned from other states, instead of punting hard questions to the executive or judicial branches.
The major upshot of Tuesday’s results in California is that the legislature may return to several major issues next year, including AB 5 and cash bail reform. The defeat of rent control shows what voters don’t want, but housing is still clearly a pressing issue for the state. It’s also clear that our work on Cato’s California Project is cut out for us: as legislators and local officials continue to wrestle with these important issues, they will need a diverse set of well‐considered perspectives, Cato’s California Project will contribute to that conversation.
Cato At Liberty After Joe Biden won the Democratic Party nomination, he made no adjustments to his aggressively pro‐immigration agenda. Some ideas—a path to citizenship for illegal
Montana just voted to legalize marijuana
Montana voters just approved two marijuana legalization measures.
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First, a new constitutional amendment, CI-118, lets the legislature or a ballot initiative set a legal age for marijuana use.
Second, a statutory measure, I-190, allows for marijuana possession, use, and growing among adults 21 and older. It also puts the state Department of Revenue in charge of setting up and regulating a commercial system for growing and selling cannabis, imposes a 20 percent tax on sales, and allows local governments to ban cannabis businesses within their borders. Finally, it allows people convicted of past marijuana crimes to seek resentencing or expungement.
Montana already allowed marijuana use for medical purposes. The new law expands legalization to recreational and other nonmedical uses.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But starting with President Barack Obama’s administration, the federal government has generally allowed states to legalize cannabis with minimal federal interference.
Live results for 2020’s marijuana legalization ballot measures
Before Election Day, 11 states and Washington, DC, had legalized marijuana, although DC doesn’t allow recreational sales. Change has moved quickly across the US: A decade ago, zero states allowed marijuana for recreational purposes.
Supporters of legalization argue that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the US, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that flow from the black market for illicit marijuana to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, legalization advocates say, will outweigh any of the potential downsides — such as increased cannabis use — that might come with legalization.
Opponents, meanwhile, claim that legalization will create a huge marijuana industry that will market the drug irresponsibly. They point to America’s experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries in particular, which have built their financial empires in large part on the backs of the heaviest consumers of their products. And they argue ending prohibition could result in far more people using pot, potentially leading to unforeseen negative health consequences.
In Montana, voters have sided with legalization supporters.
For more on the debate over marijuana legalization, read Vox’s explainer.
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Constitutional amendment CI-118 lets the legislature or a ballot initiative set the legal age for marijuana use, whereas statutory measure I-190 allows for marijuana possession, use, and growing among adults 21 and older.