Immigration advocates have urged the new Democratic administration to move quickly but Biden aides say they need time to unravel the many layers of immigration restrictions introduced during the Trump era.
US President Joe Biden on Tuesday ordered a review of asylum processing at the US-Mexico border and the immigration system as he seeks to undo some of former President Donald Trump’s hardline policies.
Biden also created a task force to reunite migrant families who were separated at the border by Trump’s 2018 ‘zero tolerance’ strategy.
“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 their families,” Biden said as he signed the orders at the White House.
Immigration advocates have urged the new Democratic administration to move quickly but Biden aides say they need time to unravel the many layers of immigration restrictions introduced during the Trump era and to put in place more migrant-friendly systems.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier in the day.
The cautious strategy reflects the tightrope Biden is walking to reverse hard-line Trump policies while simultaneously trying to prevent a surge in illegal immigration. Biden opponents could also derail or slow down his agenda with lawsuits if his administration moves too quickly and fails to follow proper procedures.
In a sign of the wary approach, Biden’s executive orders on Tuesday did not address repealing an order known as ‘Title 42,’ which was issued under the Trump administration to stop the spread of the coronavirus and allows U.S. authorities to expel almost all people caught crossing the border illegally.
He did, however, mandate a review of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a Trump program that ordered 65,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court hearings.
The Biden administration has already stopped adding people to the program but has not yet outlined how it will process the claims of those already enrolled.
“I can’t tell you exactly how long it will take to put in an alternative to that policy,” a senior administration official told reporters on Monday in response to a question about processing MPP enrollees.
Chad Wolf, former acting US Department of Homeland Security secretary under Trump, said in an interview that halting the MPP program was a mistake because it had been an effective deterrent to illegal immigration.
“If you do have a surge (of migrants), you’re taking one of your tools off the table,” he said in reference to the program.
Michelle Brane, a senior director with the New York City-based Women’s Refugee Commission, said Biden’s latest orders do not appear likely to bring the sort of quick change sought by immigrant advocates.
“I think we were all hoping for something more immediate and operational, but these seem like they will be more visionary,” she said.
Brane said advocates will now need to “wait and see” what concrete steps US immigration agencies take to implement Biden’s directives.
Biden’s efforts face logistical challenges and opposition from Republicans, according to immigration policy experts, former officials, and activists on both sides of the issue.
Lawsuits by conservative groups could potentially slow down Biden’s agenda. A federal judge last week temporarily blocked one of his first immigration moves – a 100-day pause on many deportations – after the Republican-led state of Texas sought an injunction.
Trump won the presidency in 2016 while making border security a major theme of his campaign. If Biden fails to prevent surges in illegal immigration at the US-Mexico border, he could give ammunition to Republicans in the 2022 congressional elections, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
“This is the thing that rallied Donald Trump supporters,” she said.
On Tuesday, Biden also called for a review of Trump’s so-called ‘public charge’ rule, which makes it harder for poorer immigrants to obtain permanent residency in the United States.
The review is expected to start the process to rescind it, according to two people familiar with the plan.
Biden’s order setting up the task force to reunite parents and children separated at the southern border was a key election promise.
However, the task force will face a daunting challenge in trying to track down the parents of more than 600 children who remain separated, according to a January court filing in a related case. The children are living with relatives or in foster care, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the litigation told Reuters.
The task force will be led by Alejandro Mayorkas, one of the senior officials said on Monday. The US Senate on Tuesday confirmed Mayorkas as the new head of the Department of Homeland Security, the first Latino and immigrant to hold that position.