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US Politics: Biden's Immigration - What Are His Plans for US Migrants?

Anyone who watched the BBC documentary, 'Trump Takes on the World' recently will have received a cold hard reminder of what the US and the world experienced under the Trump presidency from 20th January 2017 – 20th January 2021. Most people will recall some of Trump's most audacious immigration policy decisions in his earliest days in the White House, including the so-called ban on nationals of six mainly Muslim countries, erecting a wall on the Mexican border, deportation of undocumented migrants, and the separation of children and their parents at the southern US border. Newly inaugurated President Biden undoubtedly has a great deal on his hands just to reverse some of the damaging immigration changes wrought by the Trump administration. In this article, we will take a look at what we know of President Biden's plans for US immigration policy in the next four years.

A Complete Change of Tone

Even the most cursory look at President Biden's plan for US immigration quickly reveals a complete change of tone. Take a look at the wording he used in his election manifesto:

"It is a moral failing and a national shame when a father and his baby daughter drown seeking our shores. When children are locked away in overcrowded detention centres, and the government seeks to keep them there indefinitely. When our government argues in court against giving those children toothbrushes and soap. When President Trump uses family separation as a weapon against desperate mothers, fathers, and children seeking safety and a better life. When he threatens massive raids that would break up families who have been in this country for years and targets people at sensitive locations like hospitals and schools. When children die while in custody due to lack of adequate care. Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants. It's wrong, and it stops when Joe Biden is elected president".

Gone is the divisive rhetoric about "bad hombres"; this has been replaced with messages of inclusivity and a reminder that migration is central and of vital importance to the United States.

Several Key Immigration Changes in His First Few Weeks in Office

Biden has only been in office a few short weeks, but he has already halted the building of the wall on the border with Mexico and brought to an end the National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border. Also ended is the travel ban from six predominantly Muslim countries. Biden has also made it clear that his administration is firmly behind the protection from prosecution of those who entered the US illegally as children (referred to as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy). He has also announced a bill to change the language of immigration in the US, removing the use of the term "illegal alien", to be replaced with "noncitizen". This demonstrates that it is not just the hard policies which Biden's administration will shape in the coming years, it wants to change how America thinks about immigration, from it being a threat to being essential to its prosperity.

Legal Status and A Path to Citizenship

One of President Biden's first actions was to introduce a new immigration policy which will provide a clear pathway to US citizenship for nearly 11 million people currently without legal status. The US Citizenship Act of 2021 has three distinct strands; providing a pathway to citizenship, implementing border technology, and addressing the root cause of immigration. President Biden has already spoken to his counterpart in Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, on these matters, indicating he is keen to make fast progress.

The statement from the Whitehouse following the call stated, "The President outlined his plan to reduce migration by addressing its root causes, increasing resettlement capacity and lawful alternative immigration pathways, improving processing at the border to adjudicate requests for asylum, and reversing the previous administration's draconian immigration policies. The two leaders agreed to work closely to stem the flow of irregular migration to Mexico and the United States, as well as to promote development in the Northern Triangle of Central America". Hence, it is clear that Biden's immigration policy is not one of an open border with Mexico, rather one which aims to reduce flows through helping people to stay in their home country, and taking a more humanitarian approach to those who do cross the border.

Taking A Humanitarian Approach to US Immigration

In a fact sheet issued by the White House on 2nd February 2021, the Biden / Harris administration reaffirmed their belief in the premise that the US is "safer, stronger, and more prosperous with a fair, safe and orderly immigration system that welcomes immigrants, keeps families together, and allows people—both newly arrived immigrants and people who have lived here for generations—to more fully contribute to our country". To make this a reality, Biden has signed a series of executive orders to start the wheels of change turning. These include:

  • The formation of a special task force to bring together families who have been separated through migration at the border. The announcement says, "This task force will work across the US government, with key stakeholders and representatives of impacted families, and with partners across the hemisphere to find parents and children separated by the Trump Administration".
  • Develop a strategy to address irregular migration across the southern border and create a humane asylum system, and;
  • Restore faith in the legal immigration system of the US and promote the integration of new Americans.

Final Words

There is no doubt that Biden sees addressing immigration as critical to his presidency. Where it has become a deeply divisive issue for many Americans, he wants to remind everyone of where they themselves came from, and how important it is to care for those in need. He is also keen to bring immigration under control and implement new systems and technology to improve the movement of people across borders. Only time will tell how well his administration is able to effect these changes, but people will need to be patient; whereas as Trump was quick to destroy policies which had taken years to develop, it takes real leadership to rebuild and reunify.

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