President Biden took office only two months ago, and he has made numerous policy changes and ordered many reviews of immigration policy and regulations. While we had hoped for immediate, massive reversals of the most harmful policies, advocates have come to realize that former-President Trump and his administration made serious decisive actions difficult, if not impossible. With many of the changes, former President Trump effectively tied President Biden’s hands, at least for the time being. President Biden’s team has quite a bit of work ahead trying to piece together the 1000-piece puzzle of immigration left to them by the Trump Administration.
This is not to say that there has been inaction. Here are some of the immigration changes that we have seen since January 20, 2021:
- January 20, 2021: The White House announced a regulatory freeze and a review. This meant, among other things, that rules that had been finalized but not published were withdrawn, and rules that were finalized and published but had not gone into effect were halted for 60 days. This effectively stopped some of the worst regulations the Trump Administration had forced through in the last quarter of the year.
- January 20, 2021: President Biden revoked the “Muslim” and other travel bans based on national origin, issued by former President Trump between March 6, 2017 and January 31, 2020.
- January 20, 2021: The President issued new priorities on ICE enforcement for detention and deportations and announced a 100 day pause on removals. The new guidelines for enforcement indicated that only those who were the greatest public safety/national security threat or were recent arrivals would be prioritized for detention. The 100-day pause was enjoined by a federal court after the State of Texas sued.
- January 20, 2021: The previous administration had proclaimed a national emergency to justify the reapportionment of funding toward building a border wall. President Biden terminated that proclamation.
- January 20, 2021: The President restored DACA! DACA now exists as it did before September of 2017. This means that new applicants can apply; DACA holders can apply for travel authorization (called advance parole); and DACA will be valid for 2 years. To apply, a person had to arrive in the United States before the age of 16 and be present by June of 2007.
- February 2, 2021: The President ordered a top-to-bottom review of all recent changes (including regulations and policies) that created barriers to legal immigration. This includes an immediate review of the public charge ground of inadmissibility.
- February 2, 2021: Another executive order created a task force to reunite families that were separated at the border, and it revoked the Executive Order from the Trump Administration that justified family separations.
- February 2, 2021: The Administration issued an executive order to implement a plan for migration across the southern border and to review the Migrant Protection Protocols, which sent asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for their asylum hearing. In addition, the order set forth several actions intended to restore the asylum system to the just and humanitarian system it was meant to be.
- February 4, 2021: A new executive order reversed former President Trump’s actions on refugee resettlement into the United States and directed reviews on improving the resettlement process and issuing special immigrant visas to asylum seekers and refugees abroad. It also ordered a report on climate change and its impact on migration.
- February 18, 2021: A memo from ICE established interim guidance to support the previous enforcement and removal priorities that were issued on January 20, 2021.
- February 24, 2021: President Biden revoked the visa ban established to limit the granting of visas (even family-based visas) during the coronavirus outbreak. The justification of this ban was the effect that the new immigrants would have on employment and the economy, but this limitation had long been a priority for the Trump Administration. The Coronavirus just provided a good justification.
- March 9, 2021: The “Public Charge” rule that the Trump Administration had established in February of 2020 was finally removed for good. The
rule, in effect, created a two-tiered immigration system or merit-based system for immigrants who wanted to join their families here: One tier for young, educated, English-speaking immigrants, and one tier for anyone who was old, with fewer resources, less education, and little English ability. We were happy to see this terrible rule go.
As President Biden’s team continues to review the many changes wrought by the Trump Administration, we expect to see many more orders, as well as policy and regulatory changes. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for us here, trying to understand the changes and how they may help our clients. But the past four years were also a whirlwind—in a bad way—and at least the changes coming at us now are, undoubtedly positive.