E pluribus unum. The Biden administration implements its own immigration reform
This Independence Day there is truly something to celebrate: the rapid reform of immigration law and policy quietly taking place at the hands of the Biden Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Without a lot of fanfare, Joe Biden and his team are transforming how our federal government treats immigrants. This is the sixth president in office while I’ve been an immigration lawyer; none prior made the positive impact on immigration policy that Biden has already made in 150 days in office.
For four years, Donald Trump and his immigration policy makers led by Steven Miller changed hundreds of laws and policies in order to make immigration – both legal and illegal – more difficult. Their tone and rhetoric was all about protecting U.S.-born Americans from those who would take their jobs and make our country less safe.
Biden and his team are acting quickly to reverse this. They are remaking DHS into a more humane and welcoming agency, providing “service” to its “customers” – immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.
The pendulum swing at the federal level is coming about because of the people Biden put in charge – visionary and competent leaders with knowledge of what reforms are needed and a determination to bring them about. (For a look at a few now in charge of DHS policy: https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021-04-12/biden-immigration-officials-migrants-increase-border)
The upshot: while comprehensive immigration reform legislation is blocked in Congress, these DHS officials are effecting reform through regulation, executive order and administrative policy.
Here are a few of the most significant changes:
Making immigration laws more fair and humane.
• DACA was re-opened to new applicants. Trump tried to kill DACA but was stopped by a series of court rulings. But he did manage to close off DACA to many thousands of teenagers who became DACA-age-eligible during the Trump era. Now they are all eligible again—an estimated 100,000 young people can come out of the shadows.
• Likewise, TPS is back and expanded. Trump tried to make 320,000 Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans subject to deportation by ending the decades-old Temporary Protected Status program (TPS). Biden has restored TPS, and expanded it.
• DACA-like status for domestic violence victims and other crime victims. The waiting period for U visa applications is over 5 years. Biden has instituted deferred action for these crime victims that means 250,000+ people waiting on their decisions can get a work permit and a social security card.
• Public charge rules. Trump announced “public charge” rules that gave immigration officers wide discretion to deny otherwise eligible applicants for permanent residence if they reached the subjective conclusion that the immigrant families might become dependent on the government. We saw many cases of U.S. officials arbitrarily denying green cards to families after years of waiting and thousands of dollars spent on immigration fees.
Biden has restored the more reasonable public charge rules that existed pre-Trump.
Asylum and deportation policy.
• Remain in Mexico (MPP). Under a Trump policy, Central American asylum applicants were required to remain in dangerous and unsanitary camps in Mexico while they awaited their hearings. This left people fleeing persecution at risk of further harm from cartels and other border criminals. This policy has ended and many families have been united with their families in the US while they wait for their asylum hearings to occur.
• ICE has priorities for deportation again. A badge-of-honor for the Trump DHS was that they would deport anyone here illegally – grandmothers, DREAMers, families with disabled children, spouses of U.S. military service personnel. To do less for them was to “encourage illegal immigration”.
Biden has reinstated an Obama-era policy that targets serious criminals and recent border-crossers for removal and effectively implements a pause on deportations for everyone else. This one policy could save over 500,000 from deportation.
• No more building walls. Biden has stopped construction of the symbol of Trump immigration policy: the $15 billion+ in new border walls that Trump promised Mexico would pay for.
Modernizing and humanizing the bureaucracy:
• More fair treatment of applications. Long-time immigration procedure dictated that officers give applicants a chance to correct minor errors in their applications before denying them. The Trump DHS did away with this simple courtesy, resulting in thousands of applications being denied based solely on technical mistakes in the filings. For example, if one question on the voluminous application forms was left blank, or if one page of a passport not copied, a denial was issued by DHS and applicants had to refile and repay the substantial filing fees. Biden has reversed this Trump rule too.
• Technology. The Biden DHS is expanding electronic filing and virtual interviews for adjudicating some cases, easing the burden on applicants.
• No person is illegal anymore. Biden’s DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has taken a simple and overdue step: federal government officials can no longer use the terms “aliens” or “illegal immigrants”. ¡Gracias a Dios! We don’t use de-humanizing terms for our immigrants any more.
E pluribus unum (“from many, one”).
There appears to be more changes on the way. A New York Times article from late May revealed that the Biden Administration has prepared a plan that would bring revolutionary change for the better in immigration policy.
While legislative immigration reform is still illusive (it requires 60 votes in the Senate – Biden cannot do it himself) – the new administration is implementing its own policy transformation with all deliberate speed. These legal reforms are life-changing for literally millions of immigrants.
Now that’s what I call making America great again.