What Does the New Presidency Mean for Immigration?

By Landon Maxwell

Despite legal challenges and violent pushback from his supporters, President Donald Trump’s presidency ended on January 20th as Joe Biden was sworn into office. Much public attention was focused on the possibility of further violent riots occurring on inauguration day, as well as Trump’s imminent impeachment trial. However, millions of undocumented immigrants instead were waiting to hear what a new administration means for them. While on the campaign trail, Biden made clear his commitment to undo several policies of the Trump administration. Since then, however, activists have become concerned that Biden is walking back on these promises. While Biden maintains that immigration remains an important area of concern to his administration, his proposed timelines to address various immigration issues have been lengthened, due no doubt to the pressure of delivering vaccines to the public as COVID-19 continues to affect the daily lives of millions.

Pressure from immigration activists to roll back a myriad of current immigration policies have been met with different levels of enthusiasm from the Biden administration. One of these policies is the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which was created in January 2019, and is commonly referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” program.1 This initiative allows US border officers to relocate asylum seekers, regardless of the country they are migrating from, to dangerous border towns in Mexico while waiting for US Immigration Courts to hear their case.1 In the 11 months following MPP’s creation, over 56,000 asylum seekers were sent to Mexico.2 This policy has been heavily criticized by activists, whose reports detail the commonplace rape, sexual assault, abduction, extortion, armed robbery and other crimes committed against these asylum seekers. 2 Even those lucky enough to escape such tragic experiences regularly face hunger, dehydration, lack of access to medical care, and homelessness, lacking the resources to provide for themselves while in legal limbo in an unfamiliar and dangerous area.2

Biden had previously promised to end this policy on his first day in office. 3 In December of 2020, however, Biden stated that while ending the program is a priority for him and his administration, “It’s going to take – not Day 1 – it’s going to take probably the next six months…”.3 Biden defended this change in timeline by insisting on the need to create a system with “guardrails” to process the thousands of asylum seekers in a way that does not further complicate the issue.3 There is reason for hope, as Biden paused enrollment in the MPP program a few short days after taking office.4 However, the Department of Homeland Security has stated that all current MPP participants should remain where they are for the time being.4 While the suspension of new enrollment is a win for immigration activists, it does little to assuage the concerns of the thousands of migrants who are currently waiting for news in the border towns of Mexico.

Furthermore, ending MPP is not the only “Day 1” promise Biden has made, and activists are worried that other actions they hoped would receive immediate attention will also face delay.5 Biden previously affirmed his intention to rescind the Muslim travel and refugee bans on his first day in office, as well as to create a special commission to find and reunite the 545 children who were separated from their parents at the border and in U.S. immigration detention facilities.4 While the travel ban was repealed through executive order by Biden on inauguration day, we are still waiting to see what will be done with regards to the aforementioned children.5 Perhaps most significantly, Biden promised to send a bill to Congress on his first day that would create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants currently living within the borders of the U.S.6 As of the publication of this post, no such bill has yet been sent to Congress. While millions of affected individuals are hoping these promises are kept, it is far from certain when exactly these changes will be made, or if they will be effective. Biden has already faced setbacks in some of the actions he has already taken, as a federal judge barred Biden’s administration from suspending deportations.7

While there will undoubtably be noticeable improvements made to U.S. Immigration policies immediately following Biden’s administration, many thousands of undocumented migrants will continue to wait in limbo for some time yet, as their situations will take longer to remedy than previously hoped.

  1. Tom Phillips, Remain in Mexico policy needlessly exposed migrants to harm, report says, The Guardian (Jan. 6, 2021) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/06/remain-in-mexico-migrants-trump-biden-human-rights-watch
  2. Human Rights Watch, Q&A: Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” Program, (Jan. 29, 2020) https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/01/29/qa-trump-administrations-remain-mexico-program
  3. Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti, Biden says he’ll reverse Trump immigration policies but wants ‘guardrails’ first, The Washington Post (Dec. 22, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/biden-immigration-policy-changes/2020/12/22/2eb9ef92-4400-11eb-8deb-b948d0931c16_story.html
  4. Jaclyn Diaz, Biden Suspends Deportations, Stops ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy, NPR (Jan. 21, 2021) https://www.npr.org/sections/president-biden-takes-office/2021/01/21/959074750/biden-suspends-deportations-stops-remain-in-mexico-policy
  5. Nazita Lajevardi, Kassra AR Oskooii and Loren Collingwood, Biden Reverses Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’. Americans Support the Decision., The Washington Post (Jan. 27, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/27/biden-reversed-trumps-muslim-ban-americans-support-that-decision/
  6. Gregorly Korte, Biden’s Promises for Day One Could Take Months to Fulfill, Bloomberg (Jan. 15, 2021), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-15/biden-promises-for-day-one-could-take-months-to-fulfill
  7. AP, Judge Bars US President Joe Biden from enforcing 100-day deportation ban, Business Standard (Jan. 27, 2021),https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/judge-bars-us-president-joe-biden-from-enforcing-100-day-deportation-ban-121012700056_1.html

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