Six months in, a mixed outcome of Biden’s immigration policies

by | Aug 19, 2021 | Immigrant Rights

From left to right: Muzaffar Chishti, Director of the MPI office, New York University School of Law; Nicole Elizabeth Ramos, Director of the Border Rights Project, Al Otro Lado; Ava Benach, Founding Partner, Benach Collopy

Also available in Spanish.

Although many of Trump’s era directives have been reversed, the border and the interior tell a different tale for immigrants in the country.

By: Jenny Manrique

Six months into his presidency, Joe Biden’s promise to create a more humane immigration system in contrast to Donald Trump’s harsh policies has mixed results: the illegal crossings at the border have escalated as well as the impossibility of protecting all asylum seekers, while within the country the 11 million unauthorized immigrants are no longer a priority for ICE enforcement.

Experts on borders, courts and immigration policies, speaking on a recent virtual EMS briefing, agreed that Biden has maintained some of the harsh policies of the past while seeking to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

“The policies of the Biden administration have largely failed at the border,” said Nicole Ramos, Border Rights Project Director at ‘Al Otro Lado’, an NGO that works with asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico. “Understanding that there is a large cleanup of the leaks left by Trump’s policies … winding down of MPP has proven to be a lot more complicated.”

The MPP program, known as ‘Remain in Mexico’, forced asylum seekers from the northern triangle, Cuba and other Latin American countries to wait outside the United States for a resolution on their case. While Biden ended it, processing the roughly 70,000 people affected by that decision has been “unnecessarily slow,” and only those who had active cases entered the system.

“People who did not receive an order of termination from the immigration judge, who were unable to make it to court, or who were kidnapped and received an order of removal in absentia, were not included,” Ramos said. “ICE attorneys could have chosen to do a reopening of all of those cases rather than individually, which leaves people stuck in Mexico for even longer periods of time.”

Ramos also highlighted the situation of unaccompanied minors who continue being turned away by border patrol agents at the ports of entry with “alarming frequency” under the excuse of Title 42. Due to the pandemic, Title 42 allows the authorities to prohibit the entry of people who potentially represent a health risk. Just in July, 200,000 people were apprehended at the border. These actions have already been litigated by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“If it did protect public health, not solely migrants would be subject to COVID screening but also US citizens and permanent residents,” Ramos said. “Since Title 42 has been in place, the number of (expelled) people that we encounter that have been victims of organized crime, either through the kidnapping and extortion of their family members in the United States or in their home country, or have been victims of forced labor or sex trafficking, has increased exponentially”.

Ramos shared cases of migrants who need medical attention for serious injuries but have been expelled under Title 42, as well as women about to give birth who are deported to Mexico and mothers from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti who, after giving birth in the United States, are removed with their children. Unaccompanied minors end up in a tent encampment at the Tijuana port of entry, a plaza controlled by organized crime.

“I think the Border Patrol continues to resist any directive to increase justice or access for migrants,” Ramos said. “It is an agency culture that views immigrants as a potential danger to the United States.”

ICE Priorities

Despite the worrying border reality, things in the interior look better. According to Muzaffar Chishti, Senior Fellow and Director of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) office at NYU School of Law, the Biden administration is considered “an immigration presidency on steroids.”

In the first 6 months Biden has issued 155 executive actions, in contrast to 450 issued in Trump’s four years, half of them reversing the damage done by the former president. Biden lifted all travel bans that President Trump had put in place, paused the border wall construction, reversed the initiative to not count the unauthorized in the census, reinstated the deferred enforcement for Liberians, and has been in favor of expanding and preserving DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

According to Chishti, Biden also restored Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for several nationalities and approved one for Venezuelans, making 750,000 people eligible to regularize under this figure. The Democrat increased the number of admissible refugees in the country to 62,000, and restored victims of domestic and gang violence as legitimate asylum seekers.

“Most importantly, on his first day he sent the most aggressive immigration blueprint, which included a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people, and clearing backlogs in family and employment-based applications,” Chishti said. “But Biden can’t do it by himself and Congress is divided, and Republicans will not support him as long as the border is seen or perceived as out of control.”

The support of 10 Republicans is needed to pass the bill. About 60% of Americans think immigration is a plus for the country.

In the interior, the fact that ICE enforcement priorities now focus on recent arrivals suggests that, according to MPI calculations, 87% of the unauthorized population today have nothing to worry about a possible deportation.

“The number of people who are detained has gone down hugely as has prolonged family detention… At the end of Trump’s administration, a family typically stayed in detention for 60 days. Today, a family stays in detention for one day,” Chishti added.

Backlogs

For Ava Benach, attorney and founding partner of Benach Collopy, a Washington D.C.-based firm representing clients in removal proceedings and litigation matters before federal courts, “there is a tremendous sense of relief” among practitioners, and also among communities who have lived “on edge over the last several years” because of rumors of raids.

“Advocates have been saying that there is no interior enforcement, (telling clients) you don’t have anything to worry about unless you find yourself arrested on criminal charges… There are ways to help a person by agreeing to join a claim for relief, reopening a case, so that they get the chance to apply for something that they seem qualified for.”

Judges have regained a lot more control over their dockets and can administratively close cases, something that was previously micromanaged by the Department of Justice.

But even so, the backlog in family based and employment based green cards continues forcing immigrants from countries like India, China and the Philippines, to wait for decades in their home before joining their relatives here.

“Backlogs are a complicated scenario because a lot of green cards aren’t used every year and go to waste,” Benach said. “Those backlogs put people at the mercy of their employers, reduce mobility and create a tremendous amount of anxiety,” she concluded.

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