100 Days of Immigration Policy Change—But Not Enough

#StandOnEveryCorner in St. Paul
#StandOnEveryCorner in St. Paul

Back in January and February, I wrote about President Joe Biden’s first-day actions on immigration and about his early immigration executive orders. One hundred days on, here’s a bullet-point list of what his administration has done, what it has failed to do so far, what it cannot do without Congress, and what President Biden said about immigration in his State of the Union* address.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez reports on immigration for CBS, and does an excellent job. Read his 100 days summary of immigration policy here—it is excellent and more detailed than this short blog post. 

What Has Changed

  • Change in priorities for ICE and deportations: The Biden administration ended the “deport everybody, everywhere, all the time” Trump policy, returning to a policy that emphasizes deportation of only people who are a danger to the United States. New Interim Enforcement Guidelines require that ICE officers get preapproval for enforcement actions against anyone who is not a recent border crosser, a national security threat or a criminal offender with an aggravated felony conviction. Immigration arrests fell by 60% in February, compared to each of the last three months of the Trump administration. Deportations fell by a similar amount.  
  • Revocation of Muslim and Africa bans, though visa processing remains painfully slow. 
  • Public Charge: The State Department definitively rescinded all application of the public charge rule, formally returning to the pre-2018 rules.  
  • Children who cross the border without their parents are detained by the Border Patrol. Border Patrol facilities are entirely unsuited to detention of children, and they are not supposed to keep any minors in custody for more than 72 hours. Children are to be transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is charged with finding homes for them. In March, the number of children held in Border Patrol custody increased to more than 5,000. That number has now been reduced to 1,500 or less. More than 20,000 children remain in ORR shelters, awaiting placement with relatives or sponsors.
  • Biden administration releases parents and children within 72 hours of their arrival in the United States—except for those who are summarily expelled under the Title 42 bar to all border crossing. Official policy is still to expel all border crossers, but a high percentage of family groups are allowed to remain in the United States pending immigration hearings. 
  • Remain in Mexico policy: President Biden formally ended this illegal policy, which required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, entering the United States only for court hearings. So far, more than 8,000 of those asylum seekers have been admitted to the United States. That’s good—except the Title 42 “public health” bar to entry still keeps most asylum seekers out, and the lack of any plan for asylum seekers still stranded in Mexico because their cases were thrown out for failure to appear. 
  • Unsafe Third Countries: The Biden administration suspended the Trump-era agreements that allowed asylum seekers to be deported to Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador. 
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS): Protection granted to nationals of Burma and Venezuela who are present in the United States, but no additional protection for Haitians who are already in the United States or who are seeking asylum here. Redesignation of TPS status for Syria.
  • Reunification of separated families: President Biden issued an executive order, and there’s a commitment to reunify some families by bringing deported parents back to the United States—but no families have yet been reunited. 
  • Changes in attitude are reflected by changes in language: The administration ordered that terms used to refer to immigrants change, including changing “alien” to “noncitizen or migrant,” “illegal” to “undocumented,” and “assimilation” to “integration.” 
  • Labor and employment: A presidential proclamation revoked the Trump order suspending entry of immigrants and non-immigrants based on risk to the U.S. labor market during the pandemic. 
  • Extension of Liberian DED: The extension also allows additional time for LRIFA applications, which were delayed during the pandemic. 
  • Stop the Border WallPresident Biden ordered an end to border wall construction and did not include any funding for the border wall in his proposed budget. 
  • Citizenship: The citizenship test is back to the 2008 model, abandoning the politicized and time-consuming version imposed by the Trump administration. President Biden also issued a welcome message to new citizens to be played at naturalization ceremonies.  
  • No-Match Letters: The Social Security Administration just ended the practice of sending “Employer Correction Request Notices,” better known as “no-match letters” to employers when an employee’s name or Social Security number on W-2 forms do not match the agency’s records. 
  • H2-B Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers: DHS authorized an additional 22,000 visas, including 6,000 reserved for workers from Northern Triangle countries.  
  • Courthouse arrests: DHS has set new limits on civil immigration enforcement actions in or near courthouses. 
  • Fines for sanctuary: In 2018, the Trump administration began imposing civil fines for failure to depart, especially targeting individuals in sanctuary churches. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ended that practice. 
  • Sanctuary: The Biden administration ordered an end to Trump administration efforts to deny federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities.” 
  • Housing assistance: HUD withdrew the proposed rule that would deny housing subsidies to mixed-status families.
  • Central American Minors program: The Biden administration re-started this Obama-era program, which allows a limited subset of Central American minors to apply for asylum from within their home countries. 

What Has Not Been Done

  • Asylum: The Biden administration continues to use the phony Trump-era “public health” order to bar asylum seekers.  
  • Refugees: Although President Biden promised to increase the historically-low cap on refugee admissions, he has not done so. Instead, he indicated that he would maintain the Trumpian limit for this fiscal year, only to reverse that decision when a firestorm of protest erupted. What’s the current status? Stay tuned—he is supposed to announce a decision by May 15.
  • Deportations: A Texas court order halted the Biden order for a 100-day moratorium on deportations, but the more serious failure is the continuation of expulsions under the illegal Title 42 order. This Trump-era order calls for expulsion of anyone who crosses the order under an assumed public health authority based on the pandemic. Biden’s continuation of this illegal order, which was rejected by public health authorities but forced through by the Trump administration, closes the door to asylum seekers. 
  • Stopping the Border WallCondemnation proceedings for private property continue, although actual wall construction has been halted. 
  • For-profit immigration detention facilities remain under Biden, even though he has ordered an end to other federal contracts with for-profit prisons. 
  • Trump-era rules barring victims of gang and domestic violence from seeking asylum on those grounds have not been rescinded. 
  • Addressing root causes of immigration from Central America: The Biden administration has made promises, has assigned Vice President Kamala Harris to head up the effort, but is there any realistic possibility of success? 

What Can’t Happen Without Congress 

  • The Dream and Promise Act would give a pathway to legal residence and citizenship to Dreamers and TPS holders. Itpassed the House of Representatives with nine Republican votes, but Republicans in the Senate block any action forward.
  • The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would give a path to legal residence and citizenship to farm workers, and make changes to farm worker visa programs. It passed the House of Representatives with 30 Republican votes, but Republicans in the Senate block any action forward.
  • The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, the Biden administration’s big immigration bill, would provide a way forward for undocumented immigrants, most of whom have lived in the United States for more than 10 years, would reduce or eliminate years-long backlogs for family and employment visas, and would fix many other dysfunctional parts of the immigration system. It has virtually no chance of passage, because of Republican opposition in the Senate. 

In his State of the Union* address on April 28, President Biden reiterated a commitment to act on immigration, acknowledged that the comprehensive plan he proposed is unlikely to get through Congress, and called on Congress to at least act on a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, and farm workers:

“Immigration has always been essential to America. 

“Let’s end our exhausting war over immigration. 

“For more than 30 years, politicians have talked about immigration reform and done nothing about it. 

“It’s time to fix it. 

“On day one of my Presidency, I kept my commitment and I sent a comprehensive immigration bill to Congress.  

“If you believe we need a secure border – pass it. 

“If you believe in a pathway to citizenship – pass it. 

“If you actually want to solve the problem – I have sent you a bill, now pass it. 

“We also have to get at the root of the problem of why people are fleeing to our southern border from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador.  

“The violence. The corruption. The gangs. The political instability. Hunger. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. 

“When I was Vice President, I focused on providing the help needed to address these root causes of migration.  

“It helped keep people in their own countries instead of being forced to leave. 

“Our plan worked. 

“But the last administration shut it down.  

“I’m restoring the program and asked Vice President Harris to lead our diplomatic efforts.  

“I have absolute confidence she will get the job done. 

“Now, if Congress won’t pass my plan – let’s at least pass what we agree on. 

“Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for the Dreamers – the young people who have only known America as their home. 

“And, permanent protections for immigrants on temporary protected status who come from countries beset by man—made and natural made violence and disaster. 

“As well as a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers who put food on our tables. 

“Immigrants have done so much for America during the pandemic – as they have throughout our history. 

“The country supports immigration reform.  

“Congress should act.”

*Okay – technically, it’s an Address to a Joint Session of Congress and not formally a State of the Union Address. Functionally, I contend, it’s a State of the Union address.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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