It’ll be incredibly difficult for Biden to achieve a complete immigration overhaul
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Next week, Joe Biden is scheduled to be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. He’s made several promises about his administration’s plan to reverse much of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and in its place create a “fair and humane ([link removed]) ” immigration system.
But it’ll be incredibly difficult for Biden to achieve a complete immigration overhaul in the wake of Trump’s tangled web of about 400 ([link removed]) restrictionist immigration policies. Meanwhile, pressure is mounting for Biden’s team. Thousands of asylum seekers are waiting eagerly ([link removed]) in Mexico for the new administration to let them present their claims in the U.S., as they had been able to do before the Trump administration. And immigrant advocates are wary of a new administration that includes Obama-era officials ([link removed]) who supported family detention in 2014.
As Biden takes control of the White House, our immigration team will be keeping track of the new administration’s promise of a welcoming immigration system. Here are some of the key areas on our radar – expect more as the weeks and months progress:
Where Biden’s pledge to end “Remain in Mexico” stands. Launched in early 2019, the program has forced thousands of migrants, including children, to wait outside the U.S. while their asylum claims are pending. On the campaign trail, Biden said he would eliminate the program on day 1. But last month, he walked back that timeline, PRI’s The World ([link removed]) reported. “It will get done, and it will get done quickly,” he said in December, but explained that his administration would have to move more slowly to prevent “a crisis on our hands that complicates what we’re trying to do.” During a recent press call, Biden’s top advisers echoed the president-elect’s explanation. Their comments “appeared to reflect the incoming administration’s worries that easing up too quickly on Trump’s enforcement system could trigger a new migration surge at the border,” The Texas Tribune ([link removed]
12/22/trump-immigration-biden/) reported. To date, the government has sent more than 69,000 migrants ([link removed]) to Mexico to await their immigration court dates, to cities that the U.S. considers among the most dangerous in the world ([link removed]) .
An accounting of the harm of family separations. In October, Biden said he would create a task force ([link removed]) that would reunify hundreds of children who are still separated from their parents nearly three years after Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy at the border. His transition team has yet to provide more details on this task force, but advocates for migrant families are looking to the new administration to make amends with parents and children who will carry the trauma ([link removed]) caused by the separations their entire lives. They’ve requested congressional hearings to investigate the Trump-era policy, as well as provide restitution and legal status to families, Vox reports ([link removed]) . “We need to make them as whole as
possible,” Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney leading the legal effort to reunify families, said in a recent call with reporters. “We can never completely undo the damage because the trauma is potentially irreparable, but we need to do everything possible.”
Biden’s plans for undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. In an interview with Univision this week, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris laid out a sweeping reform bill ([link removed]) that the new administration plans to introduce to Congress. The bill aims to immediately provide green cards to immigrants protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that shields undocumented youth from deportation, as well as those who have lived in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status, a decades-old program that has helped immigrants who fled their countries due to natural disasters or war settle in the U.S. The administration also wants to add more judges to the immigration court system to decrease the massive backlog of cases, which now totals more than 1 million ([link removed]) . But immigration experts and attorneys criticized
this plan ([link removed]) , pointing out that Trump’s push to hire more judges didn’t reduce the backlog or make the process fairer for immigrants. Harris didn’t mention the temporary moratorium on deportations that Biden’s campaign had proposed about a year ago ([link removed]) . According to CBS News ([link removed]) , “implementation details for the deportation moratorium are still being worked out.”
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** JUDGE BLOCKS TRUMP’S ‘DEATH TO ASYLUM’ RULES
Last summer, the Trump administration proposed a slate of rules that would drastically limit eligibility for asylum. They made it much harder – “virtually impossible,” some advocates said ([link removed]) – to get asylum based on gender-based violence, political persecution or gang violence. They also disqualified claims from any immigrant who spent 14 days in another country without first seeking asylum there.
“Death to asylum” is the shorthand name advocates gave the rules, which were set to take effect Monday. Instead, a federal judge blocked ([link removed]) the rules, issuing a preliminary injunction just three days ahead of time. U.S. District Judge James Donato in San Francisco said former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf didn’t have the authority to issue the rule because neither he nor his predecessor in the job were confirmed by the Senate. Courts have repeatedly blocked Trump administration policies because of this failure to secure Senate confirmation for homeland security leaders.
“In effect, the government keeps crashing the same car into a gate, hoping that someday it might break through,” Donato wrote ([link removed]) .
Wolf resigned ([link removed]) Monday, citing “recent events, including the ongoing and meritless court rulings regarding the validity of my authority.” (An official told Politico ([link removed]) that Wolf was also disturbed by last week’s riots at the Capitol.) The injunction could spell the end of the proposed rules, if the Biden administration chooses not to defend the case on appeal.
** 3 THINGS WE’RE READING
1. Many immigrants expressed alarm and fear as they watched the deadly insurrection at the Capitol. (The New York Times ([link removed]) )
They fled violence and political instability back home, hoping to build peaceful lives in the United States. For many immigrants, that pristine vision of American democracy was challenged last week as they witnessed mobs of Trump supporters and White nationalists storm the Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of Electoral College votes that would confirm Biden as the next president.
The kicker: Benedict Killang’s father calls him regularly from South Sudan, a place Mr. Killang left 25 years ago when every day seemed more dangerous and violent than the one before. In recent days and weeks, he has been calling with a growing sense of worry. “He is just calling to check in,” said Mr. Killang, 50, now raising four children in Pittsburgh. “He is saying, ‘The place you are in is not safe.’ ” Particularly after Wednesday’s events, Mr. Killang cannot fully disagree. The images of the rioting in Washington are disorientingly far from the idea of the country many immigrants thought they were coming to, a place most of them believed to be of singular stability and openness.
2. Although mixed-status families will benefit from the latest stimulus package, many undocumented immigrants are still excluded from federal relief. (Chicago Sun-Times ([link removed]) )
When Congress passed last year’s COVID-19 relief package that sent $1,200 stimulus checks to many Americans, undocumented immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents living with someone who is undocumented, were excluded. The latest relief package, which took effect this month, will now include those living with undocumented family members, but still leaves out undocumented immigrants, many of whom are essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
The kicker: Lacey Chontal’s husband is among the estimated 437,000 people living in Illinois who are undocumented immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Chontal, 38, a downstate resident who lives in Quincy, is a U.S. citizen. Her six children also are citizens. Because of her husband’s status, the family didn’t get a stimulus check in March. She says that meant they had to dip into savings and use credit cards to get by after the restaurant where he worked cut back his hours. “I felt like my government spit in my face,” Chontal says of not getting the first stimulus check. “I felt like I was a second-class citizen. And no American in our country should have to feel like that, especially during a global pandemic.” Like other mixed-status households in similar situations, Chontal now is expecting to get two stimulus checks, one including the money she would have gotten in March. She plans to use the money to pay bills and pay off the credit cards.
3. In his last visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump touts partial completion of the border wall as a success. (The Dallas Morning News ([link removed]) )
In what is likely his last visit to the U.S.-Mexico border during his presidential term, Trump visited the Rio Grande Valley this week to highlight the completion of 450 miles of wall built along the 2,000-mile border. The construction is far from the “big beautiful wall” Trump promised his supporters since his presidential campaign in 2016.
The kicker: Like any wall, Trump’s has two sides. For him and others, the 30-foot steel bollards stand as a symbol of success and a tangible deterrent to migrants and smugglers. For critics, it’s a scar on the landscape, an affront to law-abiding immigrants and a vital trading partner, Mexico, and most of all, an outmoded method that gives a false sense of security, since most smuggling occurs through ports of entry. Mexico never chipped in, and Trump eventually dropped any pretense that it would, but bluster continued Tuesday.
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