Immigration

Biden To Push Forth Immigration Reform


Incoming president Joe Biden, who will take office on Wednesday, plans to introduce “a sweeping immigration” bill, according to Politico. [1] In June, Biden tweeted that “on day one” he would send Congress legislation offering “a clear roadmap to citizenship” for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Several news reports this week suggest that Joe Biden is keeping to his promise. Politico quotes “top Latinos and immigrant advocacy groups” as “stunned by the boldness of Biden’s plan.” [1]

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Biden administration will introduce a substantial immigration reform package “during his first days in office.” The paper is quoting “immigrant rights activists in communication with the Biden-Harris transition team. [6]

According to the Los Angeles Times, the proposed Biden immigration reform package is not tied to stepped up immigration enforcement of previous attempts at immigration reform. [6] Because of this, Biden’s immigration reform proposals are likely to meet resistance from anti-immigrant activists.

Previous attempts at immigration reform have stalled because of the corresponding immigration enforcement dictated by the plans. As one door opened, several others closed because of the resulting bureaucracy or tampered down reforms.

Although the proposed immigration package is substantial, it will likely not be a stand-alone package presented as one. The likely scenario is that the Biden administration will use a combination of stand-alone legislation with executive orders to cobble together his stated goal of reforming immigration in America.

The last time millions of undocumented immigrants were provided a pathway to citizenship was under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, shepherded through Congress by former-president Ronald Reagan, a Republican. The 1986 legislation processed 3 million immigrants.

Since then, immigration reform legislation has been stymied by anti-immigrants. Most immigration legislation after 1986 made immigration more difficult.

Asylum Seekers

It remains unclear how the Biden administration plans to deal with the asylum seekers who are stuck in México awaiting their court hearings for their asylum claims. The Trump presidency instituted the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) forcing asylum seekers to wait in México for their court hearings.

Although Biden has said he would end MPP on day one, his transition team has said that dismantling MPP “will take time.” [2] Part of the delay is the Coronavirus pandemic. Under current CDC guidelines, arriving migrants are expelled upon arrival.

The Dreamers

President Obama and then-vice-president Joe Biden instituted temporary protections against deportation for children who were brought to the United States as minors who are undocumented. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an Obama Executive Order that has not been codified as law. As such, the protection is temporary for the beneficiaries known as “Dreamers”.

Approximately 645,000 undocumented immigrants benefit from DACA.

Although the Republicans and the Trump administration tried to end the program, federal courts have kept the protection in place.

According to news sources, the Biden administration plans to allow DACA recipients to receive resident alien status (Green Cards) automatically.

Reuniting The Children

The Trump administration instituted a family separation program to discourage immigrants from seeking asylum. Under the Trump program, many children were taken from their parents at the border. Although the Trump administration cancelled the “zero tolerance” program in June 2018 because of national and international outcry over the taking of children, some 600 migrant children remain separated from their parents. The “zero tolerance” program was first tested in El Paso in 2017.

Biden has said that his Justice Department will investigate the separation of children from their parents. The Justice Department “will determine responsibility for the family separation program.” [5]

Biden stated that “there will be a thorough, thorough investigation of who is responsible, and whether or not the responsibility is criminal.” [5]

Pathway To Citizenship

Vice-president Elect, Kamala Harris told Univision that the Biden administration will offer a streamlined path to citizenship for the Dreamers, holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America. [4] TPS is an immigration program that provides temporary status to immigrants from certain countries. It allows them to live and work in the U.S. while under TPS.

TPS does not provide a pathway to citizenship but the Biden administration has signaled that it will enact a pathway for TPS members. Citizens from El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras are the largest holders of TPS. Other countries eligible for TPS are Syria, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan, among a few others.

Under the Biden plan, according to Harris, immigrants will become permanent residents giving them access to citizenship within eight years, instead of the 13 years it would normally take. [4] [6] With permanent residency, an immigrant can legally live and work in the United States while they become a citizen. So-called Green Card holders can choose not to become citizens yet continue to live and work in the country.

Immigration Agencies Hoping to Delay Biden

According to BuzzFeed News, the Department of Homeland Security is signing agreements with states “that appear to be an unusual effort to hamstring the incoming Biden administration’s goals to pause deportations, prioritize immigration arrests to only those with serious criminal backgrounds, and increase avenues to asylum.” [3]

The BuzzFeed report says that the states that have signed the agreement must provide DHS notice of immigration policy changes giving DHS up to six months to review the proposed changes. The review process would delay the implementation of any Biden immigration reforms for about six months.

The agreement reported by BuzzFeed News states that DHS will prioritize border security by enforcing immigration laws in a way that prioritizes detention and results in the removal of undocumented immigrants, according to BuzzFeed. [3]

The agreement, Sanctuary for Americans First Enacted Agreement (SAFE), has been signed by Arizona, Louisiana, Indiana and the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina, according to BuzzFeed News. [3]

Footnotes:

  1. Laura Barrón-López and Sabrina Rodriguez, “Democrats ready immigration push for Biden’s early days,” Político, January 15, 2021.
  2. Mimi Dwyer, “Factbox: U.S. president-elect Biden pledged to change immigration. Here’s how,” Reuters, January 15, 2021.
  3. Hamed Aleaziz, “The DHS Has Signed Unusual Agreements With States That Could Hamper Biden’s Future Immigration Policies,” BuzzFeed News, January 15, 2021.
  4. Brie Stimson, “Biden’s ‘humane’ immigration plan gives green cards to TPS, DACA recipients, Harris says,” Fox News, January 14, 2021.
  5. Jordan Fabian, Emma Kinery and Josh Wingrove, “Biden Says He’ll Introduce Immigration Bill ‘Immediately’,” Bloomberg, January 8, 2021.
  6. Cindy Carcamo, Andrea Castillo and Molly O’Toole, “Biden plans early legislation to offer legal status to 11 million immigrants without it,” Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2021.

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