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Six Months In – Mixed Status Report on Biden’s Border/Immigration Policies

Magazine, Immigration

It is no surprise that the last administration presented itself as anti-immigrant. The Trump presidency will certainly be remembered for the terror it inflicted upon immigrant communities and tearing apart families. The new administration came in with promises to undo some of the draconian policies of the past and also present a more humane approach towards immigration. On immigration policy, Joe Biden presented himself as the “anti-Trump”. But a record-breaking increase in border crossings after he took office during Covid times has led the Administration to keep some of the harsh policies of the past while attempting to implement long-term changes. A  panel briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services experts on policy, border, and immigration courts delved into the details to examine where the new administration delivered and where it failed to create a more humane immigration system.

Muzaffar Chishti, Senior Fellow, Director, Migration Policy Institute office at NYU School of Law, who tracked hundreds of immigration policy changes during the Trump Administration, provided an overview of the changes implemented by the Biden Administration. Acknowledging Trump as the only president who pursued the most aggressive policy on immigration, he asserted that President Biden has had the task of building back better. On his 1st day in office, the Biden Administration issued seven actions on immigration i.e undid the travel ban, paused border wall construction, issued TPS (Temporary Protective Status) for affected nations, counted undocumented on the census and took action to protect undocumented children, used executive order to protect immigrants, etc. The Trump administration was defined by the fear it placed on every unauthorized person, targeting 11million people which Joe Biden reversed. The target should be high criminals and the rest should have nothing to worry about. Families should work and function without fear of arrest and deportation. To that extent, he has kept his promise as deportations have reduced and there are fewer detentions. Even though people continue to be arrested it is nowhere near where we were before. There have been significant changes at the border as well. He has ended the MPP( Migrant Protection Program) migration issue as well as the practice of third-country transit which prevented people from coming in if they had passed through another country. TPS was reversed and extended for Venezuela and there is an increase in the number of asylees. Today the challenge is at the border which has seen historic highs in five years. This has created a political problem as the Republicans are jumping on that issue to challenge the president.

Nicole Ramos, Border Rights Project Director at Al Otro Lado, based in Tijuana, Mexico. The project works with asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico, who wish to present themselves to immigration authorities to seek asylum in the United States. She stated that putting an end to the MPP(Migrant Protection Program) has slowed down processing. Thousands of people have been kept in Mexico and processing is very slow as it requires the ICE attorneys to open cases on an individual rather than act on all at once. This leaves migrants stuck in Mexico for long durations. Minors are affected and cases are brought by the ACLU for minors to prevent them from being turned away. They are being turned away through title 42(expulsions are removals by the U.S. government of persons who have recently been in a country where a communicable disease was present.) which remains in effect. This was enacted because of the pandemic but US citizens are not subjected to the health screening while asylum seekers are subject to covid testing. Across administrations, these policies are put in place to ensure orderly processing but title 42 creates the opportunity for organized crime, extortion, sex trafficking, kidnapping, etc. Thousands of dollars are sent to organized crimes to liberate family members. Also very troubling is the expulsion of migrants who have fallen while climbing the wall and have an injury,  women in active labor, and the expulsions of US citizen infants and the moms of the infants. In the past, the mothers were paroled and had their day in court to make their cases. Title 42 does not protect public health rather it targets migrants and is generating astronomical money for organized crime and victimization of migrants.

Ava Benach, founding partner of Benach Collopy, is an immigration attorney based in Washington D.C. concentrating on representing clients in removal proceedings and in litigation matters before the federal courts. As an immigration attorney, she stated that there are two parts to the immigration story. There is the border and the rest of the country. The border is harsh but there are some positive developments. Getting us to the status quo and pre-Trump. Vacating a lot of the Trump policies is a start. Positive elements have had tangible effects on people’s lives. The language has changed for the better as immigrants are no longer referred to as evil. This creates a mental relief, there are no more rumors about impending raids, etc. The tangible now are priorities, ICE not targeting harmless people, working and paying taxes, there is no more fear in immigrant communities. Some policy actions are fewer people in removal proceedings, seeing the numbers go from 60,000 to 10,000 in detentions. We want better but most are not from ICE but  CBP.

The green card backlog continues to be a challenge as well as other employment-based cases affecting people from India mostly. This is complicated as most visas don’t get to be used and go to waste. This puts people at the mercy of employers and creates a lot of anxiety.

In conclusion, even though there are challenges based on politics with Republicans being less for immigration, while Democrats are more pro-immigration, the good news is that the younger generation of Republicans now sees immigration as a good thing. Most Americans see immigration as a good thing. Also, we no longer have the Trump administration policymakers pushing really draconian policies. We will just have to wait and see what the judges Trump appointed will do.

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