Joe Biden faces a series of decisions on how best to change immigration policies implemented during the Trump administration. Biden’s actions will affect millions of lives.
Below is a review of significant immigration issues confronting the Biden administration on asylum, refugees and other topics. An earlier article addressed the challenges and the outlook on H-1B visas and international students.
DACA: Due to court rulings, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), protecting more than 600,000 recipients from deportation, managed to outlast the Trump administration. Based on statements made at a December 2020 hearing, it appears U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen may be inclined to stop DACA. That creates additional complications for Biden’s efforts to maintain DACA. Administration attorneys must decide whether to continue the program in its current form or adopt a different administrative (or regulatory) approach.
Biden has promised to send a bill to Congress to provide a permanent solution for DACA recipients. The bill’s fate may rest on the ability to attract Republican support. A key question: Will the legislation include additional immigration provisions and address other groups seeking lawful permanent residence?
Refugees: Biden promised to increase the annual refugee admissions cap to 125,000, compared to the Trump administration’s level of 15,000 in FY 2021. While Biden can adjust the annual refugee ceiling after becoming president, it will take time to process more people and rebuild the refugee resettlement system after four years of policies aimed primarily at preventing refugees from coming to America.
Asylum: During a December 22, 2020, news conference, Joe Biden said rolling back Trump administration changes to the asylum process will take months, not days. “Given the Trump administration’s relentless attack on asylum seekers and the U.S. asylum system, there are too many things to even list that need to be promptly addressed by the Biden administration to restore a system of due process and meaningful access to protection,” said Dree Collopy, a partner at Benach Collopy, in an interview.
Collopy’s top priorities include:
“First, restore protection for asylum seekers at the border by rescinding or terminating the November 2018 asylum ban, the July 2019 third country transit ban, the Migrant Protection Protocols, the Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and the Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) procedures that block people from seeking relief.
“Second, halt unjust and inhumane border enforcement: suspend prosecutions of asylum seekers for illegal entry and reentry, halt the practice of turning back asylum-seekers, halt the use of expedited removal and reinstatement of removal procedures, and restore the long-established practice of releasing asylum-seekers from detention while their immigration court proceedings are pending.
“Third, terminate Trump bans, regulations and international agreements that have all but eviscerated asylum: in addition to those mentioned, undo or halt policies that have rewritten asylum law to exclude whole categories of people from protection (for example, victims of domestic violence and gang persecution), and halt regulations that attack the procedural aspects of asylum law by truncating due process and making it far more difficult for asylum seekers to meet deadlines and find legal counsel or obtain work authorization.”
Collopy would also like to see a guarantee of legal counsel and an end to “inhumane detention,” accomplishing this, in part, by “scaling up community-based release programs that are highly effective at ensuring appearance at court, far less costly than detention, and more humane.”
TPS: A Biden campaign policy document called for reviewing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) “for vulnerable populations who cannot find safety in their countries ripped apart by violence or disaster.” That could include protection for Venezuelans, which Biden mentioned during the presidential campaign, and halting Trump administration efforts to end TPS for Central Americans. “The incoming Biden administration is considering a plan to shield more than a million immigrants from Honduras and Guatemala from deportation after the countries were battered by hurricanes in November,” according to Reuters. In 2020, the House passed a bill that would have granted TPS to many individuals from Hong Kong, but Ted Cruz blocked the legislation in the Senate.
The Wall: Biden promised to end construction on Trump’s wall. Government estimates concluded doing so would save $2.6 billion, according to the Washington Post. Advocates will pressure the administration to remove parts of the wall that caused environmental damage.
Legal Immigration and Public Charge: Judging by the election, many Americans were satisfied enough with Donald Trump’s handling of the economy to vote for him. However, by reducing legal immigration by an estimated 49% since becoming president, in the long term, Trump immigration policies, if maintained, would have devastated U.S. labor force growth. A National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis showed: “Average annual labor force growth, a key component of the nation’s economic growth, will be approximately 59% lower as a result of the administration’s immigration policies, if the policies continue.” Eliminating the “public charge” rule, a health insurance proclamation and other policies designed to hinder legal immigration could be among Joe Biden’s most important legacies.
Donald Trump implemented nearly all of his immigration policies by executive orders, memorandums, proclamations and regulations. While passing legislation is preferable, Biden will likely use his pen to undo many Trump administration policies on refugees, asylum and legal immigration.