Biden kicks off process to unwind Trump immigration policies


President Joe Biden signed three executive orders on Tuesday to kick off the complicated process of reducing Trump-era restrictions on immigration, frustrating lawyers and advocates who plead with the administration to move faster for the sake of their clients .

The Executive Orders will create a task force to examine the Trump administration’s family separation at the border and an in-depth analysis of asylum processing and public charge rule – described as a wealth test for immigrants looking for green cards.

The orders came the same day Alejandro Mayorkas, a former senior Obama administration official, was sworn in as the first Latino and immigrant to head the Department of Homeland Security after the US Senate voted to confirm his appointment. .

“We want to put in place here an immigration process that can – it’s human, it’s moral, which considers the demands of refugees, the demands of people to come – in this country, at the border, of a way that treats people like human beings, “White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.” It’s going to take time. It won’t happen overnight. “

But immigration advocates say time is precious for asylum seekers who have been forced to wait in squalid border camps, crowded shelters and apartments in Mexico while their cases are examined in the United States .

A Human Rights First database has tracked at least 1,314 public reports of rape, torture, kidnapping and other violence against asylum seekers caught in Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPPs).

Linda Rivas, executive director of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said she is getting more and more calls from desperate clients in Mexico who want to know what will happen to them and their immigration hearings.

“It’s not fair to them – the pain, suffering, hunger and violence will continue as the administration considers what to do next,” Rivas told BuzzFeed News. “We continue to urge them to act as quickly as possible. These people cannot continue to wait. “

Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said Biden’s executive orders would not result in many immediate changes, but would initiate processes that could result in significant improvements, including creating a more robust definition of asylum, staged entries for stranded migrants. stay in Mexico, waiving public charges and streamlining the citizenship application process. “

The decree also called on the Department of Homeland Security to stop implementing two controversial pilot programs – the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) and the Rapid Asylum Review (PACR) – which targeted swiftly deport Mexican and Central American asylum seekers at the southern border.

An executive order established a Family Separation Task Force to identify and reunite all children separated from their parents by the Trump administration.

A senior administration official declined to commit to a specific way to reunite families, saying it would depend on individual cases. Some advocates have pushed the government to allow deported parents to return to the United States and provide them with a path to lawful permanent residence.

In mid-January, court filings in a federal family separation lawsuit against the government revealed that lawyers had still not been able to locate the parents of 611 immigrant children.

For now, the task force will start working on a set of recommendations on how best to reunite families while also tracking down those parents. It is estimated that nearly 400 of them were deported without their children and around 200 are believed to be in the United States.

A second executive order called for a review of several of Trump’s policies that have made it difficult for immigrants to seek asylum in the United States, including the MPP, which has forced thousands of immigrants to wait in dangerous cities across the country. Mexican border.

Linda Corchado, an immigration lawyer in El Paso, Texas, said the border had suffered the brunt of the Trump-era agendas.

“As lawyers our work has to be meaningful, but it cannot with so many mechanisms in place that diminish our advocacy,” Corchado said. “If what the Biden administration is really looking for is fair access to justice, we cannot wait another day as another asylum seeker is illegally turned back by border patrol agents to our border, while others suffer other prejudices within the MPP.

In his executive order, Biden said Mayorkas should consider a phased strategy to allow immigrants subject to the MPP to enter the United States “for further processing of their asylum claims.” This suggests that the administration is open to allowing immigrants and asylum seekers enrolled in the so-called Stay in Mexico program to be allowed into the United States to fight their cases. But advocates have said the longer this process takes to start, the more dangerous conditions will be placed on immigrants.

The Biden administration has stopped registering people with the MPP, but that still leaves thousands of immigrants awaiting hearings south of the border. According to an analysis by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), the program has sent more than 70,000 immigrants and asylum seekers to Mexico while their cases are tried by a U.S. immigration judge.

Although there are 21,557 outstanding PPM cases, a report from the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin said it was impossible to estimate the number of such immigrants. waiting in Mexican border towns.

Shortly after the election, advocacy groups provided the Biden administration with a roadmap on how to unravel the MPP. Among these groups was HIAS, an American Jewish nonprofit organization that provides aid and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. HIAS policy adviser Andrew Geibel said they were told the White House had taken their plan into consideration.

“We realize that ending the MPP is a complex process and takes time,” Geibel said. “We are confident that the administration will work very hard to achieve this.”

Biden also ordered the government to consider rescinding the Trump administration’s decision to end an Obama-era program that allowed Central American children to be reunited with their parents in the United States. The program, a senior administration official said, has helped more than 1,400 children enter the United States legally and safely.

The executive order also called for a review of Trump’s “safe third country” agreements with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to provide protection to asylum seekers bound for the United States. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said in a statement that the United States will suspend and terminate “bilateral agreements.

The third decree ordered the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to review regulations and other agency actions that may be inconsistent with “strategies that promote integration, inclusion and citizenship ”of immigrants.

The order also called for an immediate review of the Trump administration’s public office rule, which allows the government to deny permanent residence to immigrants who authorities say are likely to use public benefits. Biden also ordered officials to come up with a plan that would remove barriers and improve the existing naturalization process.

“Much of the success behind this [executive order] will be in the details, said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, professor at Penn State Law. “But this first step, days after the inauguration, is important and indicates that the Biden administration is ready to consider all the tools in the executive’s toolbox to make long-overdue changes to our system. asylum.

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