Pete for America
For Immediate Release: December 22, 2019
Contact: Chris Meagher

Pete Buttigieg Announces An Immigration Policy for A New Era

SOUTH BEND, IN  — Today, Pete for America released “I was a stranger and you welcomed me: An Immigration Policy for A New Era,” a comprehensive immigration policy that lays out Pete’s bold plan to create a modern immigration system that fosters belonging, promotes our shared values, engages with the global community, and ensure our nation remains competitive while protecting all workers.

“On Day One of my administration, we will reverse this president's cruel and counterproductive immigration actions that separate families, put children in cages and prevent them from having basic necessities like toothpaste or soap, deport veterans, and sweep up workers in raids while leaving exploitative employers unpunished,” said Buttigieg. “But we will do more than simply end these outrages. We will reform a system that has been in dire need of reform for decades and create an immigration system for a new era that reflects America’s values of welcoming and belonging.”

A Buttigieg administration will work to ensure that our nation is a beacon of hope for immigrants and refugees and will build a better system that serves all of us. Pete’s plan will: 

  • Pass legislation in his first 100 days that provides a path to citizenship, including for people with temporary protections—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), and withholding of removal. While working on a necessary legislative fix, Pete will immediately restore and extend temporary protections rescinded or threatened by the current administration on day one.

  • Accelerate reunification of families. Pete will reduce the backlog of family-based visas and increase the number of visas issued for family reunification each year. He also will fight for reforms to re-classify spouses and children of permanent residents as immediate relatives, eliminate discriminatory annual per-country caps, end down-grading of family preferences (through aging out or getting married), and recognize same-sex partners from countries lacking marriage equality.

  • End the Muslim Ban on Day One. Pete will immediately end this ban, which should be anathema to our values as Americans.

  • Reduce barriers to health care and education by eliminating the five-year waiting period for green card holders gaining access to public health insurance and food assistance programs; expanding on Obamacare to allow all immigrants to access health coverage on the marketplaces, and expanding access to Pell grants for students with DACA.

  • Protect undocumented workers from retaliation when reporting labor violations. Pete will support the Agricultural Worker Program Act, which protects farmworker rights such as labor, pesticide protection, and food safety laws. Pete also supports the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.

  • Provide opportunities for people who want to build our economy where they are needed most. Pete will create a local Community Renewal (CR) visa targeted toward counties that have lost prime-working-age population over the last 10 years, and smaller cities that are struggling to keep pace economically with larger cities.

  • Create a National Office of New Americans to promote and support immigrant and refugee integration and inclusion. This office will be in the Executive Office of the President and will coordinate integration efforts across federal, state, and local governments.

  • Keep naturalization affordable. The Trump administration is proposing to hike the naturalization application fee by 83% to $1,170 —that's more than an average family pays for rent each month in 43 states. Pete’s administration will keep naturalization affordable and ensure that fee waivers are available to those unable to pay. As we do for those who serve in the military. Pete will not require a fee from national service participants.

  • Put border facilities under the purview of HHS rather than CBP. By shifting responsibility for processing centers to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we ensure proper care of asylum seekers.

  • Fully restore and increase aid to Central America. The Trump administration suspended nearly $450 million in aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in retaliation for failing to stop migrants from leaving for the United States, a short-sighted response that has only exacerbated the dire conditions that cause people fleeing in the first place. A Buttigieg administration will restore funding to additional programs proven effective in improving the rule of law, functioning judicial systems, education, regional safety, economic stability, and combating corruption.

  • Modernize our employment-based visa system. We have not meaningfully updated our visa caps in over 30 years. Rather than reset our visa allotments one time based on current data, which will quickly become outdated as our economy continues to change, Pete will create a flexible review system where the allotment for employment-based visas will be set every other year based on our economy’s needs. This process will make our immigration system more adaptable, evidence-based, and competitive.

Our democracy is stronger when people living here have a voice in our society. Read Pete’s comprehensive plan for An Immigration Policy for A New Era HERE.



An Immigration Policy for A New Era

Immigration is central to the American story, and we see that story written in communities large and small across the United States. My hometown of South Bend is a city with a history of diverse immigrant communities—from the French fur trappers who came here in the 1800s, to the German and Polish immigrants who labored in the Studebaker factories, to more recently arrived Mexican, Honduran, Burmese, and Cameroonian immigrants who have helped transform our city into what it is today. The immigrant tradition of our community even includes my own father, who came to America from Malta for education opportunities and then became an American citizen.

Millions have come to America to seek opportunity and contribute their chapter in this great tradition. Others are pushed to come by circumstances beyond their control. We are a nation built on dreams of freedom and democracy—and also created through dispossession, enslavement, conquest, and colonialism. Whatever drives people to move across borders—opportunity, conflict, climate change, economic insecurity—we must welcome the stranger and respect the dignity of every person.

quotation marksWhatever drives people to move across borders—opportunity, conflict, climate change, economic insecurity—we must welcome the stranger and respect the dignity of every person.

We are called by many different ethical and religious traditions to treat each person with compassion, not cruelty. We get to choose what kind of country we live in—that is the foundation of American democracy. We can continue to cause pain and suffering to families and communities, and to hurt our economy in the process. Or we can choose to protect and protest on behalf of our community members, whether it be neighbors protecting neighbors in Nashville1 or students protesting the detention of a classmate in Arizona.2

Our policies should acknowledge that immigrants are not outsiders. They are already members of our communities. Immigrants are labor organizers and artists. They are business owners and teachers. They are caregivers and health care providers. They serve in our military. They are activists and students. They are every race, class, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. They are our parents, spouses, neighbors, and friends.

My plan has four components:

  1. Promote belonging and democracy.
  2. Modernize our immigration system.
  3. Protect the border and the people who arrive there.
  4. Engage with the global community.

Promote Belonging & Democracy

We must create an immigration system that reflects the will of the American people. Americans overwhelmingly support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people.3 Yet Congress has failed to act. Since the last comprehensive reform decades ago, the population of undocumented immigrants has stabilized at nearly 11 million people who have lived in our country for, on average, 15 years. They have been prevented from full participation in our democratic project and our formal economy.4 On top of that, we have nearly 9 million permanent residents who are eligible to become citizens, but have not taken that step.5 That’s why Pete is proposing a plan that will foster belonging for all Americans when we welcome our residents as fellow citizens while increasing the nation's competitiveness. To facilitate this, Pete will:

  • Create a path to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented people living in the United States who call this country home. In his first 100 days, Pete will push for legislation that provides a mechanism to gain legal status and ultimately citizenship, including for people with temporary protections—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), and withholding of removal. Pete will restore and extend temporary protections for these groups in the interim.

I know what it's like to live in the shadows of a community as an undocumented immigrant. From the age of 6 until 16, I had no status and really no personhood in this country. It's second-class citizenship and takes away your humanity. After I was naturalized this past year, I knew I had to do everything I could to lend my voice to people like me whose voice is stifled by immigrant status.
— Julio, Iowa

  • Promote citizenship for eligible permanent residents. Pete will keep naturalization affordable and ease the process to apply. He will expand the mandate of the National Conference on Citizenships to help people prepare for naturalization.
  • Invest in naturalization and integration. Pete supports creating a National Office of New Americans to promote and support immigrant and refugee integration at the federal level.6 He will also encourage local government and private sector support for citizenship. A Buttigieg administration will provide national service opportunities for people who want to help immigrants prepare for naturalization, which includes learning about U.S. history, our form of government, and the duties and privileges of citizenship.

Modernize Our Immigration System

Years of comprehensive immigration reform attempts have come to represent a broken promise. Each failure has resulted in more of the same ineffective, enforcement-focused approaches that target, detain, and deport too many people. Pete’s reforms will boost our economy; protect our communities, both for individuals with documentation and those without; and promote shared American values.

Design an immigration system for a prosperous America.

  • Modernize our employment-based visa system. Pete will create a flexible review system where the allotment for employment-based visas will be set every other year based on our economy’s needs.7 This process will make our immigration system more adaptable, evidence-based, and competitive. It will be informed by labor market needs, engagement with immigrant and other stakeholders, and analysis of domestic and global trends.
  • Protect undocumented workers from retaliation when reporting labor violations and ensure visa portability. Pete will propose reforms to temporary work visas so that workers can move to another employer in their industry and keep their visa.
  • Create a local Community Renewal (CR) visa to provide opportunities for people who want to help build our economy where they are needed most and where they will do well.
  • Expand the Conrad 30 visa waiver program to bring more doctors to areas that face severe shortages of healthcare professionals. Pete will also bring back the H-1C visa to address the shortage of nurses. Rural areas in particular are underserved and can benefit from immigrant doctors and nurses.8
  • Reduce barriers to health care, education, employment, and business opportunities. Pete will maximize immigrants’ contributions by eliminating the five-year waiting period for green card holders to gain access to public health insurance and food assistance programs; removing immigration-related eligibility and documentation requirements for access to health coverage on the marketplaces; and expanding access to Pell grants for students with DACA.

Support families and family values.

  • Accelerate reunification of families. Pete will reduce the backlog of family-based visas and increase the number of visas issued for family reunification each year. He also will fight for reforms to re-classify spouses and children of permanent residents as immediate relatives, eliminate discriminatory annual per-country caps, end down-grading of family preferences (through aging out or getting married), and recognize same-sex partners from countries lacking marriage equality.
  • Support legislation authorizing H-4 visa holders to work.
  • End the three- and ten-year bars to re-entering the United States. Many immigrants qualify for green cards based on a family relationship. However, they face a rule that they must leave the U.S. to apply; leaving would trigger a ban that could make them ineligible for that green card for up to 10 years.9
  • End permanent visa ineligibility for those who falsely claim U.S. citizenship, which many do unintentionally, making them permanently ineligible for certain immigration benefits.
  • Fight human trafficking and other crimes against immigrants. To combat crimes targeting immigrants, Pete will abolish arbitrary annual caps on crime victim U visas, instruct DHS and DOJ to prioritize efforts to break up human and drug trafficking networks, and expand public education to raise awareness of human trafficking.

Despite being highly skilled and having worked in the US for almost 7 years, as the spouse of an H1B visa holder, I’m relegated to a subservient and inconsequential existence. I cannot use my hard earned degree or years of experience to work in this country or start the business that I’ve always wanted to just because I was born in a certain country. And for everyone talking about women’s rights, very few seem to care about the plight of H4 spouses (in the hundreds of thousands) mostly women, who are yearning to put their hard-earned skills to good use and restore a sense of self-worth.
— Anu, Georgia

Create an enforcement process that guarantees justice and safety for all.

  • Reinstate enforcement priorities. Pete will, through executive order, prioritize enforcement efforts on people who have committed serious crimes, recent arrivals without asylum or other humanitarian claims, and people who circumvent our laws for profit, including employers who exploit immigrant labor and human traffickers who endanger lives.
  • Update the list of removable offenses. The list is extensive, outdated, overly harsh, and inconsistent with criminal justice reforms.
  • End multi-million dollar private, for-profit prison contracts for detaining immigrants and reduce immigration detention dramatically. The U.S. has the largest immigrant detention system in the world.10 Community-based alternatives to detention such as family case management programs have been shown to be over 99% effective in terms of getting people to their court hearings. They are also much less expensive and more humane.11
  • Create an independent immigration court system. Pete will create and fully fund an independent immigration court system under Article I. This system will guarantee immigration judges full procedural power and ensure that all immigrants receive due process and timely resolution in their cases.
  • Support the right to counsel for people in deportation proceedings. Pete will urge Congress to allocate funds and work with legal service providers and state and local governments to create a system that makes counsel available, building off of the success of programs like the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project.12
  • Create a process to review unlawful deportations. Pete’s administration will implement a process to review the current administration's deportation decisions. Pete will also review the current administration’s immigration policies and implement appropriate changes, including greater oversight and transparency.
  • Allow for reopening and termination of unexecuted removal orders. Some individuals with removal orders continue to live and work in the United States under regular government supervision for years and establish strong ties to their communities. Pete will have DHS allow them to reopen their removal orders and seek lawful status.

My family brought me here [from Mexico] right after I turned 16 years old. In 2006, my wife and I talked to an immigration attorney to make sure I had a clean record. The report showed that I had a removal order back in 2002. It came as a huge surprise to me because in 2002 I was never told anything about it. I just don’t understand why; I’m not a criminal, I have never been one. All I wanted was to reach my goals and live the American Dream, but it has caused me so much pain. I live in the dark, and every day I worry about one day being deported to a country I don't know much about anymore.
— Ces, Indiana

Protect Our Border & People Who Arrive at Our Door

Current border policies have neither improved Americans’ security or economic well-being, nor fulfilled our country’s legal obligations to asylum seekers. Pete’s plan for the border ensures that we protect asylum seekers’ rights from the moment they reach our borders. It also modernizes ports of entry and overall border management processes to efficiently and effectively handle today’s trade and border dynamics.

  • Immediately end the inhumane practice of family separation and help families who have been impacted and order DHS to work towards settlement of litigation brought on behalf of affected families and provide mental health services for these families. 13
  • End harmful border management processes, including “Remain in Mexico,” metering and the third country transit ban, and ensure that asylum screening is undertaken by trained Asylum Officers, never CBP officers.
  • Shift responsibility for processing centers to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure proper care of asylum seekers. When asylum seekers arrive at the border, they may spend days in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Processing Centers. Many centers are overcrowded, lack basic hygiene features, and are not designed for long-term detention or families. To ensure that all families and children receive appropriate care from the moment they enter the United States, Pete will send asylum seekers and other migrants to newly created, HHS-run facilities.
  • Change the way asylum seekers’ cases are heard at the border. Pete will allow asylum officers to conduct full asylum interviews and adjudication, consistent with their role in the affirmative asylum process.14
  • Reverse efforts to undermine long-standing asylum protection to women and children who have fled domestic violence and families and children escaping from deadly gangs. Pete will restore long-standing asylum jurisprudence that includes gender and gang violence.
  • Invest in smart border technology that is cost-effective, less intrusive, and responsive to the actual challenges faced by securing our border, and which emphasize accountability and safety.15
  • Update border processing facilities and criteria for inspections. Pete will ensure that CBP has up-to-date guidance that responds to active threats, as well as sufficient staff and specialists. 16

Engage with the Global Community

The Trump administration’s policies—including the Muslim ban, budget cuts, and the public charge rule—have distanced America from the world, undermined our State Department, harmed immigrants and visa applicants, and damaged our global credibility. Solving global challenges requires strong leadership and relationships. Pete will lead with a focus on our values and innovative solutions to migration and forced displacement.

Restore our openness to the world.

  • End the Muslim Ban. Pete will immediately end this ban, which is anathema to our values as Americans.

I have been living for the last five years in Italy. Retired early to join the man I married in Copenhagen in 2015. We began the process of his U.S. visa almost four years ago. His visa was derailed because of the Trump travel ban (my husband is Iranian) but after lots of legal fees and mountains of paperwork, he was granted a chance for a waiver which we submitted two years ago. Waiting waiting waiting.
— Steven, Italy

  • Urge Congress to Pass the National Origin-Based Anti-discrimination for Nonimmigrants Act (NO BAN Act), which imposes limitations on the underlying law used by the Trump Administration to enact the Muslim Ban and Asylum Ban.17
  • Protect our Afghan and Iraqi Partners by Reforming the Special Immigrant Visa Process. Pete will honor our nation’s commitments and commit resources and time to resolving these cases and ensuring these visa applicants are safe.

Respond comprehensively and humanely to conditions in Latin America.

  • End any “asylum cooperation agreements” with countries that lack the capacity to manage, process, and keep people safe. This includes El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, from where many refugees are fleeing in the first place.18
  • Fully restore and increase aid to Central America. Pete will reinstate aid to specifically address gender-based violence, human trafficking, and the crisis in the region’s coffee industry. He will support efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, which is significantly increasing the number of migrants from the region, 19 and will restore funding to programs proven effective.
  • Work with regional partners to address the Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis. This work will include providing bilateral assistance to countries such as Colombia and Peru that have received millions of Venezuelan refugees, as well as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelan nationals in the United States.

Undertake global leadership to protect and resettle refugees.

  • Commit to resettle refugees and allow communities to sponsor refugees and asylum seekers. Pete pledges to welcome at least 125,000 refugees in his first year and supports the GRACE Act, which sets an annual floor of 95,000 refugee arrivals (the historical average) instead of a ceiling.20
  • Create a Global Refugee Resettlement Fund.21 Pete will work with other countries and private finance and impact capital to create a fund to incentivize governments to create resettlement slots. It will be replenished by allocating a small share of what refugees will contribute in taxes once resettled in destination countries, making the fund self-sustaining.
  • Advance refugee protection through robust support of UNHCR and governments that are hosting significant numbers of refugees. Pete will re-commit the United States to the Global Compact on Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. He will deliver bilateral budgetary support to the United Nations and other countries hosting refugees.
  • Address the reality of climate displacement by working with other nations to manage and create a unified response to climate-caused migration. Pete will focus on minimizing displacement by addressing the root causes of climate change and enabling communities to build resilience to extreme weather that is an outcome of climate change.

I came to this country from India in 2009 legally with my wife just 15 days after we got married. Both my children were born here and haven’t known any other country that they can call home. I have been on the H1 visa and have applied for a green card. The current wait time for me to get a green card (not citizenship) is more than 30 years! In other words, I will die before I get my green card.
— Chittal, Maine

Modernize our processes at home and abroad.

  • Re-establish visa and foreign visitor processing goals. Pete will reinstitute these goals and expand resources for the Consular Affairs Bureau to ensure the goals are met.
  • End the administrative processing backlogs. Pete will ensure all the necessary staffing and resources are available to end such delays.
  • Elevate Consular Affairs to a separate undersecretary level position. Pete will work with Congress to make Consular Affairs its own undersecretary position in the State Department and ensure they work closely in advising both the Executive and Legislative branch on pertinent immigration issues.

This is my first time to vote in a federal election after earning my U.S. citizenship last April. Freedom and resilience are values that naturally resonate because they enabled me to experience the America that nobody told me about. America gave me everything I need to grow up and be the man I am today.
— Hassan, California


  1. Farzan, Antonia Noori. “'We Stuck Together like Neighbors Are Supposed to Do': A Community Thwarts a Father's ICE Arrest.” The Washington Post. WP Company. July 23, 2019.Back to content
  2. Snow, Anita. “Students Protest as High School Senior Faces Deportation.” AP NEWS. Associated Press. May 6, 2019.Back to content
  3. Public's Priorities for U.S. Asylum Policy: More Judges for Cases, Safe Conditions for Migrants.” Pew Research Center. August 12, 2019.Back to content
  4. Jawetz, Tom. “Restoring the Rule of Law Through a Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System.” Center for American Progress. July 22, 2019.Back to content
  5. Blizzard, Brittany, and Jeanne Batalova. “Naturalization Trends in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute. July 11, 2019.Back to content
  6. Reps. Meng, Jayapal and García, Joined by Immigration Advocacy Organizations, Unveil Sweeping Legislation to Strengthen Support for Immigrants and Refugees” Congresswoman Grace Meng. October 30, 2019.Back to content
  7. The concept of a standing commission on labor markets and immigration was first advanced in 2006 by a Migration Policy Institute-convened task force. See: Papademetriou, Demetrios G., Doris Meissner, Marc R. Rosenblum, and Madeleine Sumption. “Harnessing the Advantages of Immigration for a 21st-Century Economy.” Migration Policy Institute. May 13, 2009.Back to content
  8. Mathema, Silva. “Immigrant Doctors Can Help Lower Physician Shortages in Rural America.” Center for American Progress. July 29, 2019.Back to content
  9. The Three- and Ten-Year Bars.” American Immigration Council. October 28, 2016.Back to content
  10. Kassie, Emily. “How the U.S. Built the World’s Largest Immigration Detention Center in the World.” The Guardian. September 24, 2019.Back to content
  11. Family Case Management Program.” Women’s Refugee Commission.Back to content
  12. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project.” Vera Institute of Justice. 2019.Back to content
  13. Chatterjee, Rhitu.“Lengthy Detention Of Migrant Children May Create Lasting Trauma, Say Researchers.” NPR. August 23, 2019.Back to content
  14. Meissner, Doris. Faye Hipsman and T. Alexander Aleinikoff. “The U.S. Asylum System in Crisis.” Migration Policy Institute. September, 2018.Back to content
  15. Ibid.Back to content
  16. Miroff, Nick.“U.S. Customs Agency is So Short Staffed, it’s Sending Officers from Airports to the Mexican Border.” Washington Post. January 19, 2018.Back to content
  17. Chu, Judy. “No Ban Act.” U.S. House of Representatives. April 10, 2019.Back to content
  18. Margulies, Peter. “New Homeland Security Asylum Rule Allows Removal to Central American Countries That Have Signed Agreements With the U.S.” Lawfare. November 21, 2019.Back to content
  19. Donovan, Louise. Christina Asquith.“El Salvador Kills Women as the U.S. Shrugs.” Foreign Policy. March 7, 2019; Blitzer, Jonathan. “How Climate Change is Fueling the U.S. Border Crisis.” The New Yorker. April 3, 2019.Back to content
  20. Lofgren, Zoe. “GRACE Act.” U.S. House of Representatives. April 9, 2019.Back to content
  21. Resettlement Revolving Fund.” Airbel Impact Lab. 2019.Back to content