On Tuesday the 2nd, after a swearing-in ceremony for the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, President Biden signed three executive orders concerning a trio of pressing controversial immigration-related issues: reuniting migrant children separated from their families, rebuilding a functioning asylum system, and restoring opportunities for foreign workers and students to enter the United States. Biden’s aim with these orders is to address the “root causes” of migration to the U.S. and to begin a “full review of the previous administration’s harmful and counterproductive immigration policies.”
The first executive order concerns the creation of a new task force to work with the U.S. government, keys stakeholders, and representatives of impacted families to reunite parents and children separated by immigration enforcement in recent years. An estimated 611 children still remain separated from their parents since the Trump Administration imposed its “Zero Tolerance” policy enacted two years ago, which intended to deter unauthorized migration and prosecute illegal entries into the U.S. Biden’s task force will face many challenges, including the complication of having outdated contact information of many parents. Not only will the COVID-19 pandemic slow the searches for parents, but many of these parents were deported without their children.
The second executive order includes a revision of the Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy). While the Biden Administration has already committed to stop enrolling asylum-seekers in this program, thousands of asylum-seekers already enrolled in the program still wait in Mexico for their cases to be processed in the U.S. The new DHS, led by Secretary Mayorkas, will review the program. In addition, the executive order pushes for a re-imagination the asylum procedures. It calls for the end of damaging policies enacted by the prior administration — however, the executive order does not point to which specific policies are considered to be the most damaging to asylum-seekers.
The third executive order focuses on the legal immigration system of the U.S. and rescinds a Trump-era memo that requires family sponsors to repay the U.S. government if any relatives receive public benefits. The order includes a commitment to review all policies and regulations that have previously set up barriers to the U.S. legal immigration system, including the Trump Administration’s Public Charge rule dating to August 14th, 2019. This order also concerns the re-establishment of the Task Force on New Americans, which existed during former President Obama’s presidency. This task force focuses on integrating immigrants and refugees into American public life.
While President Biden contests the “America first” narrative perpetuated by the former Trump administration, immigration advocates caution that Biden’s policies will not result in immediate transformative changes. For instance, Biden’s government is hesitant to open up the U.S.-Mexico borders to the thousands of asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico under the Migration Protection Protocols. Administration officials argue that the asylum and refugee systems must be rebuilt in order to process such large influxes of people. Overall, many immigration advocates and legal organizations applauded this most recent trio of executive orders, but most also added that this was just a first step to undo the many harmful immigration policies issued by the previous U.S. administration.