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Biden Continues Dismantling Trump Immigration Policy As Advocates Push For Comprehensive Reform

President Biden signs executive orders related to immigration in the Oval Office on Feb. 2, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
President Biden signs executive orders related to immigration in the Oval Office on Feb. 2, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)


President Biden’s first weeks in office have been spent dismantling many of his predecessor’s policies on immigration.

Biden signed three executive orders on Tuesday aimed at undoing changes Trump made to U.S. immigration policy, creating a task force to reunite families separated at the border and ordering a review of Trump’s immigration practices.

This is in addition to a broad plan Biden unveiled on his first day in office that would carve a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally, among other reforms.

This shows the president’s desire to “make a clean and aggressive break with the Trump administration,” says Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum.

“If there’s anything that President Trump defined his administration on, it was being as anti-immigrant as possible,” he says.

A direct vision on immigration reform was missing from the Obama administration, he says, in contrast to Biden’s clear moves on the matter only days into his presidency.

Noorani says immigration reform “has a long history of enjoying bipartisan support.” Congress can quickly address some issues pertaining to those with temporary protected status — such as the so-called “DREAMers” in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and migrant farmworkers — by moving legislation that was already passed in the House. Passing that legislation alone would address about 3 million to 4 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, he says.

Taking swift action to improve policies for those with temporary protected status shows the nation that “immigration reform is good for the American worker, good for their families,” Noorani says.

So far, Biden’s executive orders have gotten the U.S. back to square one. Activists are pushing for a complete overhaul of the “terribly antiquated” immigration system, which hasn’t been reformed in decades, he says.

Comprehensive reform to Noorani includes the legalization and a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. More than 5 million immigrant workers have been on the frontlines of essential labor during the COVID-19 pandemic, he points out.

To address the future needs of legal immigration, Biden’s plan needs to lay out a vision for work and family visas, he says, because the U.S. must “increase legal immigration by about 317,000 people per year in order just to maintain the old age dependency ratio.”

The third piece of an all-inclusive reform plan would be reassessing the immigration enforcement system to include measures based on actual risk.

“A border wall is not based on any sort of a risk,” he says. “Securing and resourcing ports of entry — that’s actually based on data because the majority of drugs, guns and money are smuggled through ports of entry. That’s what we should be fortifying.”

The pandemic has only made immigration in the U.S. more complicated. The massive immigration backlog since visa applications were suspended last April has already surpassed the projected growth rate of increasing legal immigration by 317,000 people per year. About 380,000 visa applications are waiting for review.

Noorani says Biden’s executive orders this week will begin chipping away at the visa application list.

In past administrations, there’s been bipartisan support for certain immigration reforms, but the spirit of cross-aisle cooperation has eroded in Washington in recent years. But Noorani remains hopeful because of the many different options for reform.

He says Democrats can engage Republicans “who were just turned off by the Trump administration’s approach to immigration.” And if Democrats don’t have enough support from their GOP constituents, the Senate could also forge ahead on a party line vote and have Senate Democrats blow up the filibuster, for example.

He says it would be a smart move for Democrats, particularly in the Senate, to begin making moves on immigration because “there’s a history and there’s a desire” for change.

Alexander Tuerk produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RaySerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.