How Biden tried to undo Trump's damage to immigration in his first 100 days


Immigration experts say there's still much more work to be done.

President Joe Biden employed a two-pronged approach to immigration during his first 100 days in office that included his own proactive solutions as well as reversing his predecessor's inhumane policies.

In a Monday report, the Migration Policy Institute found that the Biden administration took 94 executive actions immigration as of April 26, just four days ahead of his 100-day mark on April 30.

"This compares with the fewer than 30 taken during the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, which was arguably more active on immigration than any prior U.S. administration," the institute wrote. "Of the Biden presidency’s 94 executive actions on immigration so far, 52 have set the stage for undoing Trump administration measures, MPI found."

Here are some of Biden's key actions on immigration — so far — and where they stand.

Stopped border wall construction

On his first day in office, Biden halted construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. His executive order implemented a 60-day pause and directed top administration officials to "develop a plan for the redirection of funds concerning the southern border wall, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law."

Experts and advocates across the board have said the border wall is an ineffective tool to curb unlawful immigration, as a large number of undocumented immigrants are simply those who have overstayed their visas.

The Biden administration, however, is still fielding pending court cases that would allow the federal government to seize private land for the border wall. As the Washington Post noted, the administration had previously said it would withdraw or attempt to block those cases from continuing forward, but recently stopped intervening to halt the cases, without explanation.

Landowners are hopeful the administration will continue to intervene to stop the cases from moving ahead, though some are unsure what the future holds.

"Even though the Biden administration has said 'not another foot' there have been some condemnation proceedings occurring still. That’s an indication that some condemnations are still occurring and some portions of the border wall are still being built and those things concern me," Victoria Guerra, a Texas lawyer and former board member of the Salineño Wildlife Preserve, one of the entities the Trump administration sued to seize its land, told Border Report earlier in April.

Relief for some asylum seekers

Biden revoked the Migrant Protection Protocols, otherwise known as the "Remain in Mexico" policy, on his first day in office. The policy, enacted by Donald Trump, forced asylum seekers to wait out their cases across the border in inhumane tent camps, often for months.

In February, the Biden administration began processing the 25,000 asylum seekers with active immigration cases, out of a total of 65,000 who were waiting in Mexico.

Still, some immigration experts worry that the administration is not doing enough. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Title 42 expulsion policy, which allows the government to turn away immigrants at the border to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has been mostly left in place with the exception of unaccompanied immigrant children.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said a limited number of families were also admitted.

Advocates have called on Biden to revoke the Title 42 order, which they say was simply a way for the prior administration to halt immigration more broadly.

"The government has used the pandemic as a pretext to block and expel asylum-seekers to the countries they fled as well as Mexico under a CDC order that the agency's own experts refuse to sign off on," Kennji Kizuka, a senior researcher at Human Rights First, told Border Report in January.

Support for 'Dreamers' and DACA recipients

Biden has pleaded with the Senate to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to pave a way to U.S. citizenship for those undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were children.

"My administration looks forward to working together with Congress to do the right thing for Dreamers," he said in March. The president reiterated that sentiment in his first address to Congress on April 28.

"Let's end our exhausting war over immigration," he said.

The DREAM Act has gone through several iterations since 2001, but has never made it past both chambers. The House passed the latest version, called the American Dream and Promise Act, in March, but it now faces GOP resistance in an the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to make it to Biden's desk.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signified that any bill for "Dreamers" would have to address a rise in immigration at the border.

In the meantime, Biden has signed an executive order directing his attorney general and Homeland Security secretary to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program first implemented during the Obama administration, which Trump had tried to dismantle.

Raising the refugee admissions cap

For the current fiscal year, Biden had initially pledged to raise the refugee admissions cap to 62,500, but walked that back in April, saying he would uphold the historically low 15,000 limit set by Trump and his white nationalist adviser, Stephen Miller.

Amid pushback, Biden later backtracked, saying he would increase the ceiling but likely not up to the initially proposed amount, before later changing his mind again, according to the Washington Post, and reconsidering the 62,500 figure.

For fiscal year 2022, which begins in October, Biden has promised to raise the refugee admissions cap even higher, to 125,000, its highest level in three decades.

Aid for farmworkers

Biden has signified broad support for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would provide relief for immigrant farmworkers for the first time in 35 years.

"The Act will deliver the lawful status and better working conditions that this critical workforce deserves, as well as much-needed stability for farmers, growers, and the entire agriculture industry," the president said in a statement in March.

The legislation passed the House in March and would allow long-term agricultural workers to apply for a green card. The bill would also grant legal status via a Certified Agricultural Worker visa to undocumented temporary immigrant farmworkers and their immediate family members.

So far, the bill has had uneven support among top GOP senators, as summed up by Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall in March: "The bill has a lot of merit. I think there’s an opportunity to improve it yet."

"I support the overall concept, but it needs some tweaks," said Marshall, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Welcome changes to U.S. immigration services

Biden early on in his presidency reversed several Trump-era policies within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which had made it more difficult for those looking to become legal residents to obtain a green card.

In February, Biden rescinded the Trump administration's new version of the U.S. civics test — part of the broader citizenship exam. The new version increased the number of questions asked, as well as how many questions had to be answered correctly to pass.

Immigration experts said the test was clearly more difficult and suggested it would slow down the approval process significantly.

Biden reverted that test back to the prior 2008 version that only required applicants to correctly answer 6 out of 10 questions in order to pass.

In April, USCIS also announced that it would no longer reject asylum applications if responses to requests for their middle name or passport number were left blank, a reversal from Trump's "No Blank Space" policy that immigration experts called both egregious and arbitrary.

Revised ICE deportation guidelines

In February, Biden announced a new set of priority categories for the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement to use when determining who would be deported.

The stricter criteria applied to undocumented immigrants who posed a national security or public safety threat, such as terrorists or violent gang members, and those convicted of aggravated felonies. Those who were apprehended for unlawfully entering the United States on or after Nov. 1, 2020 would also not be protected from deportation.

Randy Capps, director for U.S. research at the Migration Policy Institute, said in a phone interview in February that Biden's guidelines would protect at least 87% of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

"It promises many fewer thousands of people have to live in fear of deportation," Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said over the phone in February.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, citing ICE data, deportations fell by nearly 50% in March.

Still, immigration advocates and activist groups say the new priority classifications aren't enough.

"It is our hope that Secretary Mayorkas and the incoming Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE leadership will use this interim period as an opportunity to take action to reorient the U.S. immigration system away from punitive enforcement and toward justice and compassion," Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, said in a statement when the categories were first announced.

No more Muslim ban

Biden revoked the Trump administration's discriminatory Muslim ban, which barred travelers from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, on his first day in office.

Since then, members of Congress, with Biden's endorsement, have moved to block any future bans from being implemented.

On April 21, the House passed the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants (NO BAN) Act that would prevent any future president from being able to prohibit groups of people from traveling to the United States based on religion.

"Those bans were a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths," the Biden administration said in an April 20 statement in support of the bill.

Family reunification efforts

On Feb. 2, Biden signed an executive order forming a task force to reunite families separated under the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy, which split thousands of children — some as young as a few months old — from their parents.

The ACLU has also been working to reunite children with their parents since the family separation policy was formally halted by a federal judge in June 2018. Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a phone interview on April 7 that the organization had not yet located the parents of 445 children, but was working to find them.

Inclusive language

In February, the Biden administration directed USCIS officials to stop using the terms "alien" and "illegal alien" in the agency's communications.

In March, USCIS announced its plans to remove the term "aliens" from its policy manual altogether.

And in April, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and ICE both issued memos directing their employees to used "non-citizens," "migrant," "undocumented noncitizen," or "undocumented individual" in place of "illegal aliens."

"We enforce our nation’s laws while also maintaining the dignity of every individual with whom we interact," said acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller. "The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in our custody."

Miller added that the directives "set a tone and example."

"Calling a person an 'illegal alien' or just 'an illegal' is dehumanizing and 'othering'. It frames this person as someone less than human. Dehumanization is a common precursor to violence and other forms of abuse," anti-bias consultant and researcher Suzanne Wertheim told the American Independent Foundation in an email earlier in April.

The efforts to incorporate inclusive language were first noted in a Jan. 20 White House fact sheet on the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. Democrats formally announced the sweeping immigration bill on Feb. 18.

The legislation includes many of Biden's immigration proposals and would create a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, as well as replace the word "alien" with "noncitizen" in the nation's immigration laws.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.