UNITED States President Joe Biden signed a trio of executive orders on Tuesday, Feb. 2 that aim to undo former President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, including addressing family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border, reforming the asylum program and reviewing the “barriers” that the Trump administration placed around legal immigration.
“We are going to work to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration that literally, not figuratively, ripped children from the arms of families,” Biden said on Tuesday as he signed the orders in the Oval Office.
Historically, legal immigration in the U.S. has been characterized by extreme backlogs of cases in immigration courts, painstaking and rigorous qualification tests (like the controversial “public charge” rule enforced by the Trump administration) and a general tediousness and slowness. For many naturalized immigrants, it takes decades from the time of application to becoming citizens.
Biden’s executive order directs government agencies to undergo a “top-to-bottom review of recent regulations, policies and guidance that have set up barriers to our legal immigration system,” including reviewing the public charge rule, which imposed a series of economic litmus tests that prevented many low-income immigrants from obtaining a green card or permanent residency.
Regarding the famously lengthy naturalization process, the executive order details that within the 60 days of the order’s signing, the administration will “substantially reduce current naturalization processing times” and “make the naturalization process more accessible to all eligible individuals.”
The other two orders that Biden signed on Tuesday included creating a task force that will reunite families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border and laying out a framework to reform the U.S.’s asylum policy, two issues that most explicitly manifested Trump’s immigration philosophy.
Regarding the issue of family separation, Biden’s order sets up a task force to reunite parents and children who were separated by border officials at the southern border, a key election promise. But currently, more than 600 children remain separated from their parents (according to a recent court filing related to family separation), a challenge as immigration officials struggle to navigate these dramatic shifts in policy during a global pandemic. (Reuters reported that children are either living with relatives or are in the foster care system.)
Tuesday’s orders are a follow up to the first batch of executive actions on immigration that Biden signed on his first day in office, as previously reported in the Asian Journal.
Those directives included the so-called Muslim ban, construction on the southern border all and providing further protections for undocumented immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Though the White House has marketed Biden’s early executive directives as a win after four years of stringent immigration policies, immigration advocates have urged the new administration to act quickly to ensure that the most vulnerable communities of undocumented immigrants are protected.
A large portion of the orders signed on Tuesday (and during the first batch of executive orders last week) were promises to review existing immigration policy and didn’t involve immediate action. The public charge rule is still in place and Biden has not addressed the controversial order known as “Title 42” — a measure issued under Trump that allows immigration officials to expel almost all individuals caught illegally crossing the border during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the White House has stated that it will take the new administration time to examine the extensive immigration restriction introduced by Trump.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.
Biden’s early efforts to scrutinize, reverse and largely overhaul Trump’s immigration policies follow the majority shift in Congress that Democrats now lead, signaling a clearer landing for progressive, pro-immigrant policy.
“We’ve just gotten through four years of chaos and cruelty brought to you by the Trump administration. They weaponized an already miserable and dysfunctional immigration system, and [now] we have a president and a slim majority in Congress of Democrats who have become more pro-immigrant,” Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of the immigration reform organization America’s Voice, said in a press briefing on Friday, Jan. 29.
Sharry briefly outlined three broad goals of the Biden administration regarding immigration: remove the “cruelty” that colored the Trump administration’s immigration approach, “build” a “fair, humane, functional immigration system,” and enact “transformative” laws that will kickstart a pathway to citizenship for “millions of undocumented” individuals.
Although discussion and debate over immigration are usually centered around immigrants from Central and Latin America, about 40% of immigrants coming to the U.S. hail from the Asian continent, according to current patterns of migration, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC Executive Director John C. Yang said at Friday’s briefing.
Yang praised the president’s first batch of immigration-related executive orders which he believes are the first steps in the right direction for the approximately 1.7 million undocumented Asian immigrants living in the U.S. currently. Specifically, Yang applauded the addition of green cards to clear the backlog of employment-based visas (like H-1B visas).
Most crucially, however, Yang celebrated what he described as a new beginning of immigration policy in America, but noted that it will take time for some Americans to adjust to the changing national narrative concerning immigrants.
“The starting point for all of us is that America is still an inclusive America and this fear of the ‘browning’ of America does exist, but it is in a small segment of the American population, and with that small segment, we must find a way to talk to them,” Yang said.