EXPLAINED: President Biden’s Immigration Plan

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After four years of what has felt like a war on immigration, the inauguration of President Biden represents the dawn of a new day for immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and all those who welcome them. But many are wondering what the Biden immigration plan includes. 

The new administration has made clear that reforms to our immigration system are a top priority – but there is much work to be done, both to reverse the damage of the previous administration, and to rebuild and reimagine a system that works efficiently and humanely.

Biden’s Immigration PLAN IN action so far

Within his first days in office, President Biden has taken several executive actions to address or reverse the most harmful immigration policies implemented by President Trump. His administration has also released details about immigration reform legislation sent to Congress.

Below, we recap what the Biden administration has already done, and what it is expected to do to build back a better immigration system.

Will President Biden repeal the Muslim Ban?

In keeping with his campaign promise, President Biden signed an Executive Order repealing the Muslim Ban on his first day in office. It also requires the Department of State to provide a report within 45 days ensuring a process for expeditious adjudication of visas for applicants who were pending a waiver, and ensure that all those whose visa applications were denied on the basis of the bans may have their applications reconsidered without prejudice

First implemented by the Trump administration in 2017, the ban placed severe restrictions on travel and immigration from predominantly Muslim-majority nations and has particularly devastated admissions and resettlement of Muslim refugees over the past four years. In early 2020, the ban was extended to six more countries – Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, and Tanzania – targeting predominantly Black immigrants.

Admissions of Muslim refugees plummeted under the Trump administration, from nearly 40,000 in 2016 to a mere 2,500 in 2020. Critics of the policy, including our leadership at LIRS, have decried it as patently antithetical to our core values of religious freedom and a blatant contradiction of what it means to be American.

What will President Biden do about the border wall?

Also on his first day in office, President Biden signed an Executive Order terminating the so-called “national emergency” declaration that allowed the Trump administration to divert funds from military construction projects to fund the border wall. The new order halts wall construction and directs a full review of the resources appropriated for its construction. Federal agencies must formulate a plan in 60 days to redirect the funds already appropriated for 2021.

What will Biden do to protect Dreamers?

President Biden has issued a memorandum to the Attorney General and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to take all actions to preserve and fortify DACA in an effort to protect Dreamers – undocumented people who were brought to the United States as children.

The immigration legislation that Biden is sending to Congress also includes provisions impacting Dreamers – more on that below.

Difference between refugees asylum seekers

What will Biden do to ensure undocumented people are included in the Census?

During the 2020 Census, President Trump announced a policy that broke from the long tradition and constitutional obligation to count all persons residing in the United States.  It aimed to produce a different apportionment base — one that would, to the maximum extent feasible, exclude persons who do not have lawful immigration status.

However, on his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order that rescinds this policy and restores the principle of equal representation enshrined in our Constitution, census statutes, and historical tradition. 

What will Biden do about ICE enforcement and deportations?

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Inauguration Day that it would pause deportations of certain noncitizens for 100 days starting on January 22, delivering on one of President Joe Biden’s key campaign promises on immigration policy. The moratorium is supposed to give Biden a chance to reevaluate where the immigration agencies should dedicate their resources.

According to a memo from Acting DHS Secretary David Pekoske, the moratorium will apply to any noncitizen in the US who has been ordered deported by an immigration judge, unless they arrived after November 1, or if they voluntarily gave up their right to stay in the US with full knowledge of the consequences and the opportunity to obtain legal representation.

Noncitizens can still be deported if they have engaged in terrorism or espionage or are suspected of doing so, or if they otherwise pose a threat to national security.

What will Biden do about the “Remain in Mexico” policy?

The Trump administration’s controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires asylum-seekers trying to enter the U.S. from the southern border to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexico for American court hearings, will be suspended.

The policy presented clear humanitarian concerns and violated U.S. law and international treaty obligations to offer safety to individuals seeking protection within our borders. LIRS welcomes this change in policy as a first step toward reinstituting a humane asylum system and provide an opportunity for the thousands of migrants that have been left stranded on the Mexico side of the U.S. border.

Biden’s Department of Homeland Security has announced it will stop new enrollments into the “Remain in Mexico” program, which makes good on the president’s commitment to end the program. We expect and hope and will push for this to just be the first step toward ensuring that the thousands already in desperate circumstances in Mexico will be paroled into seek safety from within the U.S.

Difference between refugees asylum seekers

What will Biden do about separated migrant families?

No one will soon forget the thousands of migrant families who were purposefully torn apart by Trump’s Zero Tolerance policy. At LIRS, our child welfare experts witnessed family separation firsthand, and after years of work, we managed to reunite more than 1,000 children with their parents.

Fortunately, President Biden’s Chief of Staff has published a memo indicating that we would see action on the reunification of families, more than 600 of whom remain separated to this day, within the first 10 days of the new administration. We expect to see an executive order in the coming days, creating a taskforce to reunify these families and make them whole once again.

What is Biden’s immigration legislation?

The bill, known as the US Citizenship Act of 2021, would represent the most sweeping immigration reform package passed since 1986. It marks both a symbolic and substantive break with the restrictionist immigration policies that have defined the last four years under Donald Trump.

The bill aims to modernize our immigration system, keep families together, expand economic opportunity, address the root causes of migration, and restore United States leadership as a refuge for those fleeing persecution.

Will there be a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people?

Yes – the centerpiece of Biden’s immigration plan is a pathway to citizenship for approximately 11 million undocumented people.

The bill would create a temporary legal status for those have been present in the US on or before January 1, 2021, and if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes. After five years, they would be able to apply for a green card. If they choose to pursue citizenship, they would be eligible after three years of having a green card and passing additional background checks and demonstrating knowledge of English and U.S. civics.

Who is eligible for automatic green cards under the Biden plan?

Immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), as well as farmworkers would be able to apply for green cards immediately under the Biden immigration plan.

What does the immigration legislation say about detention?

The Biden immigration plan also provides funding for alternatives to detention, such as Family Case Management programs.

At Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, we have piloted these alternative programs – which connect new Americans with community resources instead of locking them up. We have seen time and time again that they lead to high immigration compliance rates, but at a fraction of the taxpayer cost of detention.

How is Biden addressing root causes of migration?             

The bill aims to bring to make Biden’s vision for a regional approach to migration a reality by addressing the factors driving Central American migrants to flee their home countries.

Biden’s immigration plan allocates $4 billion over the course of four years to address those push factors and incentivize Central American governments to improve living conditions.

It would also set up new processing centers throughout the region in order to register qualifying migrants as refugees and resettle them in the U.S. if they qualify for humanitarian protection.

What does Biden’s immigration bill say about border security?

The bill would allow for an unspecified increase in funding for immigration enforcement. However, those funds would go toward improving screening technology, officer training, infrastructure at ports of entry, and border security between ports of entry – favoring alternatives to a border wall.

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