On January 20, 2020, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States of America. Only hours after being sworn into office, President Biden began to implement the changes he promised in his campaign. Many of these promises concerned immigration; in fact, he made a commitment to “take urgent action to undo Trump's damage and reclaim America's value.” This “urgent action” has certainly begun and many of Trump's anti-immigration policies have been reversed. On Inauguration Day, the new administration took several steps to realize a vision for a more fair and humane immigration system—not only were multiple executive actions issued but a new immigration reform bill has also been proposed. Here is a summary of these steps.
The Executive Actions
1. Trump's Travel Ban: Repealed
The “Muslim Ban,” as it is commonly called, went into effect during Trump's first week in office in January 2017. It halted legal immigration from a series of countries deemed to be security threats. Many argued that it discriminated against Muslims and that Trump did not have the legal authority to issue such an order in the first place; despite this, its third version was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.
This version, which barred immigration from seven countries and was expanded last February to restrict citizens from another six countries, has now been repealed by President Biden via executive action. As the Guardian explains, “Biden's action instructs the state department to restart visa processing for the affected countries and to develop a proposal to remedy harms caused by the bans, including those who had visas denied. It also allows for increased screening and vetting of travelers through information sharing with foreign governments.”
2. DACA: Protections Reaffirmed
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is an Obama-era policy that offers protection to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The Trump administration made several attempts to end the program, from an executive action struck down by the Supreme Court to a memorandum issued by former acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chad Wolf. In December, a federal judge ruled that DACA was to be fully reinstated (read more about the ruling and its background here and here). President Biden has cemented this order in his memorandum instructing DHS and the attorney general to “preserve and fortify” the program.
3. Border Wall Construction: Halted
In order to fund construction of a border wall, Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border. President Biden has ended this declaration of “national emergency” and has ordered that construction of the wall be immediately paused.
4. Census Exclusion of Undocumented Immigrants: Rescinded
Trump issued a memorandum in 2019 that ordered the Census Bureau to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census count. Removing this population set from the count would affect the apportionment of congressional seats and allocation of federal funding. Given such far reaching consequences, this attempt was challenged in court. In December, however, the Supreme Court withheld ruling on the case, Trump v. New York, No. 20-366, because to do so would be “premature.” This dismissal upheld the memorandum until January 20: within his first hours as president, Biden rescinded the order and, as Immigration Impact reports, “States are now ensured to receive full Congressional representation and federal funding for all of their residents.”
5. Immigration Enforcement: Scaled Back
Biden has repealed an executive order made by Trump that significantly expanded immigration law enforcement. Vox provides a clear background on this change: “…presidents typically identify what classes of immigrants should be prioritized for deportation. Under former President Barack Obama, that included people who posed a threat to national security, immigrants convicted of serious crimes, and recent border crossers. But Trump's executive order essentially eliminated those priorities, sending the message that no undocumented immigrants — including families and longtime residents — were safe from deportation.” The Biden administration will return to immigration enforcement priorities akin to those of the Obama era.
6. Liberian Immigrants: Deportation Relief Granted
President Biden extended the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program until June 30, 2022. This move will allow the roughly 4,000 Liberians in the U.S. continued work authorization and protection from deportation. Biden also ordered that green card for Liberians be expedited through the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, a benefit that has been increasingly inaccessible due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Proposed Immigration Reform Bill
In addition to his series of executive actions, President Biden also sent an immigration bill to Congress. The bill, U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, would represent “the most sweeping immigration reform package passed since 1986.” Not only would it present an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, it would also provide funding for border security technology and border patrol training, as well as provide foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Of course, these changes outlined above are only “Day One”—the new administration has many more steps to take in order to make good on its promise to deliver a safer and more just and welcoming immigration system.
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