With Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 Presidential election, all eyes are on the promises made during the course of his campaign. Many of these had to do with laws and policies concerning immigration to the United States. These were especially driven by the Trump Administration’s obvious efforts to end not only U.S. entry by undocumented persons, but all forms of legal immigration.
The Biden Plan for immigration is an extensive one, covering both the short and long term. Naturally, it will be affected by practical realities; that is, which sorts of actions can, by law, be taken immediately, and which will require further study, public input, and formal action by U.S. immigration agencies or Congress.
Let’s take a look at what the biggest or most immediate changes are likely to be under the Biden Administration.
Reinstating DACA. This is a fairly straightforward one. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was created by Executive Order (Obama’s) to help children of undocumented immigrants to the U.S. who had successfully attended school and abided by U.S. law while here. DACA was nearly undone by Trump Executive Orders. But it can be reinstated by a Biden Executive Order, pretty much as soon as he sets pen to paper. Biden also has ambitions to expand DACA, by exploring “all legal options to protect [recipients’] families from inhumane separation.” Also, his plan looks forward to eventual Congressional action, stating that “Dreamers and their parents should have a roadmap to citizenship through legislative immigration reform.” That last bit will obviously take longer, and depend on cooperation by Senate Republicans.
Reviewing eligibility for TPS. Under the Trump Administration, numerous troubled countries whose citizens had taken temporary refuge in the U.S. (“Temporary Protected Status“) were suddenly, and often for no clear or rational reason, taken off the TPS list. President-Elect Biden plans to order an immediate review of which countries remain impacted by war and natural disasters, and to protect TPS holders from being returned there. Because TPS decisions are made by the Executive Branch, this too could be implemented fairly quickly and easily. Whether Biden’s hopes for Congress to add a path to citizenship for long-time TPS holders will be realized is a tougher question.
Restoring enforcement priorities for undocumented immigrants. The federal budget for immigration enforcement has basically never allowed for deportation of every last undocumented person in the United States. Under past administrations, enforcement authorities were directed to focus on removing people convicted of serious criminal offenses or who were threats to public safety. The Trump Administration did away with these priorities, such that a hardworking parent of U.S. citizen children could be targeted as easily as (or before) a known criminal. President-Elect Biden plans to once again prioritize certain enforcement efforts, while ensuring that undocumented persons are afforded due process and human rights protections. This sort of directive can be implemented quickly, although changing the culture of the immigration agencies might be more difficult.
Protecting asylum seekers and refugees. The Trump Administration took numerous steps to end asylum as we know it; treating border applicants as illegal aliens though they’d never set food in the U.S.; issuing numerous Attorney General opinions to overturn longstanding asylum protections and definitions; and drastically lowering the number of refugees the U.S. would accept each year. The Biden plan would restore many past protections and increase the refugee quota from 15,000 to 125,000 annually. The changes shouldn’t run into many procedural hurdles, but will take time to implement. For example, refugee advocates note that rebuilding the capacity of resettlement groups to receive people and place from abroad could take years.
Ending country-based or “Muslim” travel bans. The Trump Administration issued a series of Executive Orders banning most U.S. entry by citizens of certain, mostly Muslim countries. Biden has pledged to immediately reverse these travel bans, stating that “prohibiting Muslims from entering the country is morally wrong, and there is no intelligence or evidence that suggests it makes our nation more secure.” Again, because these were done by Executive Orders, the next executive can immediately undo them.
Enacting comprehensive immigration reform. Well, this one’s going to need Congress’s help. President-Elect Biden set forth many ideas for bringing order to the chaos of U.S. immigration; chaos that makes it hugely difficult for anyone to immigrate or get a temporary work visa, whether applying based on an employer, family, or some other basis. Although every U.S. president has probably wished for the power to force Congress to act, it doesn’t work that way. Congress has been unable to agree on major immigration reform for decades. Change is not likely to happen in January of 2021, or for a long time thereafter, but pretty much everyone knows it’s needed.