Biden Signs Immigration Executive Orders

Erick Widman

In his early days in office, President Biden articulated his immigration and refugee protection goals and rolled back many of his predecessor’s actions through a series of executive orders. On 2 February 2021, President Joe Biden signed into effect three executive orders related to immigration that aim to create a more “fair, orderly, and humane” immigration system. These orders eliminate policies created by the prior administration, including the abhorrent separation of migrant children from their families at the US border. Here’s what you need to know about Biden’s three most recent Immigration Executive Orders.

Executive order #1: Reuniting Migrant Children With Their Parents

Trump’s Justice Department announced in April 2018 a “zero-tolerance policy” that resulted in the prosecution of anyone who crossed the border, including those with children. On 2 Feb. 2021, President Biden issued the “Executive Order on the Establishment of [an] Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families.”

The goal of this executive order is to reunite migrant children who were separated from their parents after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. It revokes Trump’s previous order that justified separating families at the border and creates a task force that recommends further steps Biden and heads of other government agencies can take to reunite separated families. Beyond its symbolic import, the order takes the first steps towards redressing and understanding the pain inflicted on thousands of migrants and preventing future family separation.

Administration officials and immigration advocates warn that this process will not be immediate and does not address whether parents who have been deported will be given special protections to come back to the United States to reunite with their children. Once more information is reviewed, more actions are certain to follow.

Biden’s order creates an Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families led by the Secretary of Homeland Security, with the Secretaries of State and of Health and Human Services. The task force also includes the attorney general and other high-ranking agency administrators. Its primary goals are to identify all minor children separated at the border during Trump’s era in connection with the zero-tolerance policy, and to make recommendations to various agencies on how to reunite them.

Executive order #2: Restore Asylum

During his presidency, Donald Trump tested the limits of the executive branch in an effort to severely restrict asylum in the USA. Many of these orders were issued specifically to prevent noncitizens from obtaining asylum, rather than to uphold obligations under international and domestic law. The Trump administration created 96 asylum-related policies during his four years in office, according to the Immigration Policy Tracking Project.

Biden’s expansive executive order instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security to evaluate some of these punitive orders, many of which have been subject to legal challenges in court. Biden’s order also aims to create a comprehensive regional framework to address the root causes of migration.

The intent of this order is to address economic and political causes of migration, work with organizations to provide protection to asylum seekers, and ensure Central American asylum seekers have legal access to the United States. It rescinds the Trump administration’s policies and guidelines and initiates a review of policies “that have effectively closed the U.S. border to asylum seekers.”

One goal of this order is to build, detail, and expand asylum systems and resettlement capacity in the United States. Details of how this will be implemented are still to be determined.

This executive order alone will not, however, automatically remove hurdles to seeking asylum. Unwinding the previous administration’s attacks could take several months or years.

Executive Order #3: Review of Recent Regulations, Policies and Guidance and Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems

On 2 Feb. 2021, Biden issued an order aimed at ameliorating immigration processes and other related benefits for the 40 million foreign-born immigrants already living in the United States. With the order, Biden creates a policy of establishing welcoming strategies that uphold inclusion, integration and citizenship, and embracing the participation of the immigrants in the USA.

This order rescinds Trump’s memo requiring immigrants to repay the government if they receive public benefits. It also elevates the role of the executive branch in promoting immigrant integration and inclusion, including reestablishing a Task Force on New Americans. Finally, it requires agencies to review immigration regulations and policies.

Section 3 of the executive order, “Restoring Trust in our Legal Immigration System,” instructs the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security to identify barriers to accessing, and the fair, efficient adjudications of, immigration benefits, and give their recommendations on how to eliminate these barriers.

Biden’s early, immigration-related executive orders, despite their inevitable shortcomings, span a wide range of matters and address many of the changes the Trump administration created through his abuse of executive authority. They are best understood as an attempt to reverse Trump’s actions rather than to create new policies. The orders are thoughtful, nuanced, and pragmatic, and can serve as a guidepost for sustained, lasting reform.

Immigration advocates hope this order will support immigrants struggling with healthcare, food, and other social services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Urgent Legal Representation Needs

Passage Immigration Law is the law firm specializing in the immigration and nationality law of the United States of America. Our experienced immigration attorneys are experts and represent our clients in all related areas. If you have questions about your situation or have urgent legal representation needs, give us a call today at (503) 427-8243 or submit a request for one-to-one consultation with one of our lawyers here. You can meet us in person at one of our convenient locations in Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington.

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