Q REPORTS – Hours after being sworn in as president, U.S. President Joe Biden reversed several Donald Trump immigration policies by executive action, marking a stark change in tone from the previous four years of anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions.
The president had a slate of immigration actions planned for his first day in office, including the unveiling of an immigration reform bill, which provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people currently in the United States.
Biden also issued a presidential memo to underline the administration’s support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, which allows people who were brought to the US as children without legal documents to temporarily get work visas and be protected from deportation. Trump ended Daca in 2017, but the decision was embroiled in legal challenges and eventually rejected by the supreme court.
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, the incoming administration emphasized its plans to address the root causes of migration, including by sending aid to the Central American countries where the climate crisis, violence, corruption and poverty have driven an increase in family immigration.
The US Citizenship Act of 2021 would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary legal status, and give them the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass background checks and pay their taxes. Dreamers, temporary protected status (TPS) holders, and immigrant farm workers who meet specific requirements would be eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation. After three years, these green card holders could apply for citizenship.
To deter people from rushing to the border, applicants must be physically present in the US on or before 1 January 2021. The legislation would, however, allow the homeland security secretary to waive the presence requirement for those deported since Trump took office and had been in the US three years prior.
The act would also change immigration laws to use the word “noncitizen” instead of “alien”, increase the number of diversity visas from 55,000 to 80,000 and eliminate the three- and 10-year bans that prevent people from re-entering the US if they have left the country after being there illegally, among other actions.
The Biden administration also plans to build back up US asylum and refugee programs, but cautioned it could take months to address Trump administration changes to the systems.
Biden administration officials said future immigration executive actions would include plans to address the migrant protection protocols (MPP), better known as Remain in Mexico, which require asylum seekers to await their court hearings in Mexican border towns and not in the US, as before. They would also address the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bar on asylum seekers and refugees under an order called Title 42. More executive actions on immigration are expected on January 29.
“The last thing we need is to say we’re going to stop immediately the — you know — the access to asylum the way it’s being run now and end up with 2 million people on our border. It’s a matter of setting up the guardrail so we can move in the direction,” Biden said last month.
But behind the scenes, plans have been set in motion to prepare for new arrivals, which have been gradually ticking up since last year and present an immediate challenge to the incoming administration as it sets up its own immigration policies.
The Department of Homeland Security has been putting contingency plans in place, in anticipation of an increase in migrants at the southern border as a result of deteriorating conditions in Latin America and a perceived relaxation of enforcement, and relaying those plans to transition officials, according to a senior DHS official. Plans include, for example, the use of soft-sided facilities that take into account Covid-19 precautions.
Migrants from Central America
According to Guatemala’s official immigration agency, an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 US-bound migrants have crossed into Guatemala from Honduras since Friday.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a dramatic toll on Latin America, where Covid-19 cases and deaths have soared and economies projected to grow have been decimated. The region was also hit with two devastating hurricanes. The decline in economic growth in 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service, is expected to worsen income inequality and poverty in the region.
Caravans, as they’ve largely become known, are intended in part to provide safety in numbers as migrants embark on the dangerous journey north. The Trump administration seized on caravans to back up controversial and restrictive policies that largely sealed off the US, but they’re only one means of migration.
“It gets outsized attention because it’s a lot of people. They do it for safety, they do it for community. … It doesn’t necessarily mean they have a better chance of getting in,” said Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
“We knew for awhile there was pent up demand to come to the United States,” Brown added, citing conditions in Latin America.
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Monday the country is closely watching developments of a migrants’ caravan moving towards the US from Central America, adding that he’s talking with Central American and US government officials, including the incoming Biden administration. Lopez Obrador said his team is “in communication with the government of the United States, the current officials and those who are coming through in the new government” around the caravans’ issue.
Sources: CNN, The Guardian