President Joe Biden has just been inaugurated as President of the United States. Immigration has been a hot-button issue for both Democrats and Republicans in recent years, and policies under the Biden administration are likely to differ sharply from those under Donald Trump. While it is too early to tell exactly how immigration policy is likely to unfold under President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, here are some early indicators of the new administration’s plans.
President Biden made it clear that he intends to hit the ground running on immigration issues, including creating a path to citizenship for the roughly million people currently in the United States without a legal status.
Biden has chosen Alejandro Mayorkas to run the Department of Homeland Security; he will be the first immigrant and Hispanic individual to serve in that role if he is confirmed. Immigrant advocacy groups have indicated that they are pleased with the incoming administration’s legislative agenda on immigration issues, and impressed by the level of clarity in President Biden’s plan.
Here are some of the policy initiatives you can expect the Biden administration to try to advance.
President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 through executive action. Designed to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by their parents, the program has been under siege during the Trump administration, which attempted to wind down the program. Many of the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients could have been deported to countries of which they had no memory. In addition to helping DACA recipients remain in the United States President Biden is also said to be looking into legal options to protect the families of DACA recipients from separation.
President Biden plans to ensure that DACA continues to be available and to direct USCIS to accept new DACA applications. His proposed legislation would make current DACA recipients immediately eligible for a green card (lawful permanent resident status) and create a path to citizenship, reducing the time needed to become a citizen from 13 years to eight years.
Biden has also expressed the intention of ensuring that DACA recipients are eligible for federal student aid such as Pell grants and loans, and that they will be included in his plans to give students access to debt-free community college.
One of the sharpest criticisms of the Trump administration was its treatment of asylum-seekers at the country’s southern border, specifically the separation of families. President Biden seeks to immediately put an end to policies that separate parents and children and those that require people seeking asylum to wait outside of the United States for relief to be granted. He has also stated that he wants to give humanitarian protection to Venezuelan nationals living in this country, including allowing them to get work permits.
Biden has also expressed an intention to expand the availability of asylum to individuals whose countries are intolerant of the LGBTQ community and who have been persecuted because of their membership in that community.
As part of a mission to re-establish the United States as a safe haven for those fleeing persecution, President Biden has indicated he would like to raise the ceiling for refugee admissions to 125,000 per year. That will require congressional legislative action.
President Biden has condemned the travel ban imposed by the Trump administration in 2017. Trump, by executive order, barred or sharply curtailed travel to the United States by visitors from certain countries, most of which were majority-Muslim or African nations.
President Biden has made good on his promise to immediately rescind the travel ban by executive order. His administration will rely on existing immigration laws to regulate entry into the United States by nationals of previously-banned countries.
One of the cruelest aspects of recent immigration policy is the enforcement of policies against immigrants who have stayed out of trouble and been productive members of their communities, in some cases for decades. The Biden administration has directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to prioritize its enforcement efforts.
Priority enforcement is important because the Department of Homeland Security has limited resources; those resources should be applied in a way that makes the country safest. A new memo issued by DHS has established temporary enforcement priorities while the agency reviews and revises existing policies. These priorities are national security, border security, and public safety. In other words, individuals who have engaged in terrorism or espionage, those apprehended at a border while to unlawfully enter the country on or after November 1, 2020, and ex-convicts who committed an aggravated felony are priorities for removal.
The memo also places a 100-day “pause” on deportations on many individuals with final orders of removal, except those subject to priority enforcement or who have voluntarily waived any right to remain in the United States. If you are unsure if the 100-day “pause” applies to you, contact an immigration attorney.
A person doesn't have to be a U.S. citizen to serve in the U.S. armed forces, and the result is that many immigrants who have served this country in the military have subsequently been deported. President Biden intends to develop a process by which deported veterans can legally return to the country they served, and offer protections to immigrant veterans who would otherwise face the threat of deportation.
As of this writing, nearly 750,000 lawful permanent residents of the United States have filed an application for citizenship and are awaiting action on those applications. The Trump administration tried to increase the filing fee for citizenship applications. President Biden is looking to streamline the naturalization process so that qualifying green card holders can become citizens of the United States.
These are only some of the likely changes to immigration policy in the new presidential administration. If you have questions about upcoming immigration policy changes in the Biden administration, please contact our law office to schedule a consultation.