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Joe Biden’s electoral victory over Trump was a big relief for those who advocate for immigrants’ rights. He has made big promises regarding immigration, including a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country. The immigrant community is hopeful and skeptical at the same time. As we have seen with the Obama administration, Democrats do not always pass favorable policies for immigrants. This article will focus on the policies, beneficial and harmful, that the Biden administration has already passed.
Early Positive Changes
There has been a clear difference between Biden and Trump on their approaches to immigration and asylum. Biden achieved many positive policies for immigrants during his first 100 days. “The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) calculates that the administration has taken 94 executive actions on immigration [as of April]” and at least half of these have aimed to undo Trump’s damage. Some notable examples of positive policies are:
- Removing the Muslim Ban
- Reversing the Public Charge Rule
- Narrowing categories for deportation
- Allowing unaccompanied minors into the country
- Ending detention of pregnant and postpartum people
- Ending “Remain in Mexico” policy
Immigration attorney Christopher Richardson is one of the immigration advocates who believes Biden is off to a good start when it comes to positive change for immigrants.
“His attempts to strengthen DACA, retake DACA applicants, repealing the public charge, repealing the healthcare provision that Trump tried to put in place, I think those are all excellent. I think his work on reducing the backlogs of immigration has been helpful. I think reducing some of the travel bans – the Muslim ban in particular- that Trump put in place has been helpful. Trying to move ICE enforcement back toward quote on quote “violent criminals,” I think all of those things have been helpful for immigrants as a whole.” – Chris Richardson
Ilsia Muñiz from Immigrant Connection also affirms that the change of administrations had immediate and notable results. “In my immigration work at Immigrant Connection, I noticed changes between the Trump and Biden administrations. Recently, we had many clients from Venezuela come in for TPS applications. This was a happy moment in my work. I could see the hope and relief in people’s faces.”
Is it enough?
While Biden has made swift and positive changes for the immigrant community, many immigration advocates argue that the changes are not enough.
For example, though unaccompanied minors are now allowed to enter the country, they are still being detained, albeit for not a prolonged amount of time and in better conditions. The minors are being held in a tent complex which is arguably better than the chain-link enclosures under Trump.
Immigration advocates argue that Biden should end detention of asylum seekers altogether. They also criticize the condition of the temporary detention facilities, which at one point were at 700% capacity.
Another area in which advocates are skeptical is Biden’s return to Obama-era deportation priorities. Trump made every undocumented person a priority for deportation. The Biden administration has changed this so that only ‘serious criminals’ and undocumented immigrants who may pose a threat are a priority.
While this is a clear victory on paper, it sounds a lot like Obama’s policies. And as we saw with the Obama administration, he deported over 3 million people, many of whom were not serious criminals.
Marty Rosenbluth, immigration attorney with Polanco Law, is hesitant to trust the Biden administration on immigration. “I’ve seen this movie before, it looks to me that Biden is going to make the same mistakes that Obama did.” – Marty Rosenbluth
A Continuation of Trump?
Biden has continued Trump’s Title 42 policy which allows for migrants arriving at the border to be expelled without due process. Advocacy groups have called on the Biden administration to end this policy, pointing out that it is disproportionately affecting Black immigrants.
Advocates are criticizing the Biden administration for continuing and expanding Trump’s policy instead of dismantling it. They cite that more Haitians have been removed per the Title 42 policy since Biden took office than in the entire Fiscal Year 2020.
Marty Rosenbluth points out that Immigration courts are another area in which Biden is not moving far enough away from Trump. Instead of appointing people who have experience in deportation defense, asylum, and other relevant fields, Biden appointed many of the same types of immigration judges as Trump.
“16 out of the 17 [appointees] are in exactly 100% the same mold of Trump’s appointees. Former ICE prosecutors, former criminal prosecutors, former military, a big corporate lawyer who has no immigration law experience at all. This was an opportunity for Biden to show that there is clear change, they appointed the same anti-immigration [type of] judges that Trump did. If Biden really wanted change, why would he appoint the exact same types as the Trump administration? No excuse.” – Marty Rosenbluth
Kamala Harris’ infamous trip to Guatemala is further evidence that the Biden administration is continuing in Trump’s footsteps. In her first diplomatic trip to Mexico and Guatemala, the Vice President told Guatemalans not to make the dangerous trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I want to be clear to the folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur.” – Kamala Harris
This was a departure from the administration’s supposedly more humane approach to immigration. What the administration either failed to realize or failed to acknowledge is that seeking asylum is one of those legal methods. Arriving at the U.S. border is the first step in that method.
In essence, Biden was definitely the lesser of two evils, but immigration advocates are watching closely. With Joe Biden in office, my community is simultaneously hopeful and skeptical. The pattern appears to be clear: politicians make promises to undocumented immigrants, allies who can vote do so for the politicians who make those promises… and undocumented immigrants are given crumbs. Here’s to expecting Biden and Harris to break that pattern.