A raft of executive orders signed Wednesday undoes many of his predecessor’s hallmark initiatives, such as halting work on a border wall with Mexico, lifting a travel ban on people from several countries considered a significant terror risk, and reversing plans to exclude people in the country illegally from the 2020 census for the purpose of Congressional apportionment.
“These actions illustrate that today’s Democratic Party puts people here illegally – or attempting to come here illegally – before American workers,” said Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “President Biden and his administration may not see a problem with illegal immigration, but millions of working men and women do.”
Six of Biden’s 17 orders, memorandums and proclamations deal with immigration. He ordered efforts to preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program unilaterally enacted by President Obama known as DACA, that has shielded hundreds of thousands of people who came to the U.S. as children from deportation since it was introduced in 2012. He also extended temporary legal status to Liberians who fled civil war and the Ebola outbreak to June 2022.
The Homeland Security Department announced a 100-day moratorium on deportations “for certain noncitizens,” starting Friday, after Biden revoked one of Trump’s earliest executive orders making anyone in the country illegally a priority for deportations.
That’s not it. Biden’s most ambitious proposal, unveiled Wednesday, is an immigration bill that would give legal status and a path to citizenship to anyone in the United States before Jan. 1 — amnesty for an estimated 11 million people — and reduce the time that family members must wait outside the United States for green cards.
Taken together, Biden’s moves represent a sharp U-turn after four years of more stringent immigration policies. Former President Donald Trump’s administration also took hundreds of other steps to enhance enforcement, limit eligibility for asylum and cut legal immigration to improve employment opportunities for American citizens.
The new president dispelled any belief that his policies would resemble those of former President Obama, who promised a sweeping bill his first year in office but waited five years while logging more than 2 million deportations.
Yet eager to avoid a rush on the border, Biden aides signaled that it will take time to unwind some of Trump’s border policies, which include making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. Homeland Security said that on Thursday it would stop sending asylum-seekers back to Mexico to wait for hearings but that people already returned should stay put for now.
It “will take months to be fully up and running in terms of being able to do the kind of asylum processing that we want to be able to do,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, told reporters.
Despite the deliberative pace in some areas, Biden’s moves left pro-immigration advocates overjoyed. Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of United We Dream, called the legislation “the most progressive legalization bill in history.”
“We made it,” she said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. “We made this day happen.”
It is even more striking because immigration got scarce mention during Biden’s feeble campaign, and the issue has divided Republicans and Democrats, even within their own parties. Legislative efforts failed in 2007 and 2013.
Under the bill, most people would wait eight years for citizenship but those enrolled in DACA, those with temporary protective status for fleeing strife-torn countries and farmworkers would wait three years.
The bill also offers development aid to Central America, reduces the 1.2 million-case backlog in immigration courts, and provides more visas for underrepresented countries and crime victims.
The proposal would let eligible family members wait in the United States for green cards by granting temporary status until their petitions are processed — a population that Kerri Talbot of advocacy group Immigration Hub estimates at 4 million.
Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens who have been waiting outside the country for more than six years are just getting their numbers called this month. Waits are even longer for some nationalities. Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico have been waiting outside the United States since August 1996.
The bill faces an enormous test in Congress. Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said Wednesday that he would lead the Senate effort. Skeptics will note that Ronald Regan’s 1986 amnesty for nearly 3 million immigrants preceded large numbers of new arrivals and say to expect more of the same.
In a taste of what’s to come, Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, described the bill as having “open borders: Total amnesty, no regard for the health and security of Americans, and zero enforcement.”
Biden warned advocates last week that they should not hold him to passage within 100 days, said Domingo Garcia of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who was on a call with the president.
“Today we celebrate,” Carlos Guevara of pro-immigration group UnidosUS said Wednesday. “Tomorrow we roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.