When President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House in January, he plans to act quickly on immigration reform, but activists are worried that his proposals aren’t enough to right the wrongs of the Trump administration or tackle long-term comprehensive immigration objectives.
Although the former vice president did not list immigration among his top four priorities, which include the Covid-19 pandemic, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change, he has released plans to tackle some of the most urgent immigration problems in his first 100 days in office.
Much of his efforts will focus on reversing President Donald Trump’s more than 400 high-profile and less-noticed executive orders that restrict legal and illegal entry into the United States. For instance, part of Biden’s immigration plan is to rescind the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy as well as its travel and immigration restrictions on 13 countries, mostly targeting African or predominantly Muslim countries. He has also pledged to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and to restore Temporary Protected Status, including extending the status to Venezuelan exiles.
In addition to undoing most, if not all, of Trump’s anti-immigration executive actions, Biden has also said he’d implement a 100-day moratorium on deportations, create a task force that will focus on reuniting families that were separated as a result of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy and send an immigration bill to the U.S. Senate that could provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people.
With a political divide in Congress, a major overhaul of the immigration system is unlikely. However, immigration rights advocates remain fervent in their fight for comprehensive U.S. immigration reform, promising to hold Biden accountable to his promises and push his administration toward bold, progressive action. Reversing Trump’s executive actions only to return to the state of affairs under former President Barack Obama, who has been dubbed the “deporter in chief,” will not suffice. They are urging Biden to make immediate executive orders to resolve asylum-seekers and immigrants’ most dire needs as well as influence and shape legislation that could create a fair immigration policy that upholds U.S. values, keeps families together, provides a path to citizenship, creates millions of jobs, reduces the deficit and builds the economy.
In meetings with Biden—as well as with the president-elect’s pick for secretary of homeland security, Cuba-born Alejandro Mayorkas—movement leaders have already been advising the incoming administration on short-term and long-term objectives to rectify the harms of the U.S. immigration system and create just and humane new immigration reform. Here are some of the immigration reform suggestions that activists and progressive politicians have proposed.
1. Rectify the damage done by family separations.
While President-elect Biden has said he will create a task force responsible for finding and reuniting the 500 sets of parents and children who were separated under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, advocates hope that the incoming administration will also take additional measures to rectify the damage done by state-instituted separation. They are urging the Biden administration to create a victims fund to help families with trauma and medical needs as well as to provide these families with legal status in the United States.
2. Return undocumented immigrants who were wrongfully deported.
Under the Trump administration, numerous individuals have been wrongfully deported. Rescinding Trump orders isn’t enough. Activists urge the incoming administration to also work to return those, including parents, who were illegally and unfairly removed.
3. Loosen penalties for immigrants who commit minor crimes.
Last week, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said that she would introduce a resolution when the new Congress is seated next year that will outline comprehensive immigration reform priorities. The resolution includes a vision for humane immigration enforcement. Under the current immigration system, immigration judges are forced to hand down only one penalty to undocumented individuals who commit a crime or civil immigration violation: deportation. This means that even minor offenses, like traffic violations, could force someone to be uprooted from the country and separated from their loved ones. She and activists are calling on Congress and the forthcoming Biden administration to help implement scalable penalties based on the severity of offenses, including fines, community service, treatment programs, and probationary periods.
4. Improving access to health care and housing.
Rep. Jayapal’s resolution also advocates for improving immigrants’ access to health care and housing. The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified and made visible the barriers that exist for immigrants. For example, undocumented immigrants as well as DACA recipients are ineligible for stimulus checks in many states. Moreover, even authorized immigrants who arrived in the U.S. in the last five years are ineligible for federally funded public insurance programs. The resolution aims to eliminate “barriers that deter immigrant communities from accessing crucial public services for which they are eligible.”
5. Ending the detention of migrants and asylum-seekers.
The U.S. immigration detention system, a relatively new and failed experiment, is the largest in the world. Oftentimes, detainees, who are locked up solely because the government wants to make sure they show up in immigration court, lack access to court-appointed attorneys or a speedy trial and, instead, are subjected to medical neglect and sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. According to activists, the system is immoral, ineffective, and squanders taxpayer money. As such, immigration rights activists and groups, including many who organized communities and pushed voter turnout that helped Biden win the 2020 Presidential Election, have been calling for the abolishment of detention centers and will continue to do so under a Biden presidency.
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