President Joe Biden signed three executive orders Tuesday that take aim at his predecessor’s hardline immigration policies and try to rectify the consequences of those policies, including by establishing a task force designed to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border.
The latest orders build upon the actions taken in Biden’s first days in office and begin to provide a clearer picture of the administration’s immigration priorities.
“I’m not making new law, I’m eliminating bad policy,” Biden said at the White House, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and newly confirmed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, of the stream of executive orders he’s signed as President.
“This is about how America’s safer, stronger, more prosperous when we have a fair, orderly, and humane legal immigration system,” Biden said.
The orders signed Tuesday largely direct reviews of policies and do not have an immediate impact, concerning immigration advocates and attorneys scrambling for answers on the future of migrants subject to Trump-era policies.
Alida Garcia, vice president of advocacy at FWD.us, told CNN she was excited about Tuesday’s announcements, but noted that there’s also “frustration around the urgency that exists for service providers to have clarity in their ability to advise people in life or death situations.”
“We hope to hear more hard logistics soon,” she added.
Hours into his presidency, Biden moved to swiftly undo many Trump administration policies in a series of executive actions. He also sent an immigration bill to Congress. But his administration has already faced legal hurdles in implementing those policies. Last week, for example, a federal judge temporarily blocked Biden’s 100-day pause on deportations, as the case proceeds.
The Senate voted 56-43 on Tuesday to confirm Mayorkas as Homeland Security secretary, the first Latino and immigrant to serve at the helm of the department.
Creating a task force to reunify families
During his presidential campaign, Biden pledged to set up a task force focused on identifying and reunifying families separated at the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy. The administration’s new task force stems from that promise.
The task force will be chaired by the Department of Homeland Security secretary and work across the US government, along with partners, to find parents separated from their children under the former administration. CNN previously reported that first lady Jill Biden is expected to take an active role in the task force. The secretary of state, Health and Human Services secretary and the attorney general will also be involved.
It will be charged with identifying all children separated from their parents or legal guardians on the southern border, facilitating and enabling the reunification of children with their families, and providing regular reports to the President, including one containing recommendations.
The consequences of the “zero tolerance” policy which led to the separation of thousands of families are still felt today. Lawyers are unable to reach the parents of 611 children who had been split from their families by US border officials between 2017 and 2018, according to the latest court filing in an ongoing family separation case.
“The Biden administration is committed to remedying this awful harm the Trump administration inflicted on families,” a senior administration official said, calling the policy a “moral failure” and “national shame.”
Biden called the policy a “stain” on the country’s reputation.
“By the grace of God and goodwill of the neighbors, we’ll reunite these children and reestablish our reputation as being a haven for people in need,” he said.
The Justice Department also officially rescinded the policy last week in a memo to federal prosecutors, even though it had already been ended.
Cases of separated families will be examined on an individual basis to determine next steps. “The goal of the task force is one to identify, but two to make recommendations as to how the families can be united, taking into account the menu of options that exist under immigration law,” the official said.
Addressing root causes of migration
This executive order will focus on providing support to Central America to stem the flow of migrants to the US-Mexico border and provide other pathways to migrate to the US without journeying north.
The administration plans to provide aid to the region to support initiatives combating corruption and revive the Central American minors program that had been ended by Trump and allows certain at-risk youths to live in the US.
Homeland Security will also be directed to review the Trump-era policy that requires non-Mexican migrants to stay in Mexico until their immigration court date in the United States. The policy, informally known as “Remain in Mexico,” has left thousands of asylum seekers waiting in dangerous and deplorable conditions on the border.
The Biden administration has stopped new enrollments into the program, but has not disclosed its plans to address the thousands of migrants still waiting in Mexico, saying only that they will be taken into account as new systems are put in place.
US border officials have also increasingly relied on a public health order, put in place under Trump, that allows for the expulsion of migrants apprehended at the border. Tuesday’s order doesn’t say whether that policy will be immediately terminated, but directs the Homeland Security secretary, in consultation with the attorney general, the Health and Human Services secretary and director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin “taking steps to reinstate the safe and orderly reception and processing of arriving asylum seekers, consistent with public health and safety and capacity constraints.”
The order also calls for the review of other asylum rules put in place under Trump that made it exceedingly difficult to seek refuge in the US. It says the US intends to “suspend and terminate” agreements signed with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that allowed the US to send migrants seeking asylum to those countries, instead of admitting them.
Similarly, the order kickstarts a review of the fast-track deportation procedure known as “expedited removal,” which allows immigration authorities to remove an individual without a hearing before an immigration judge.
Reviewing the legal immigration system
This executive order seeks to promote immigrant integration and inclusion, according to the White House, and reestablish a Task Force on New Americans.
Like the other executive orders, it also seeks to reverse Trump-era policies that targeted low-income immigrants, including calling for a review of the public charge rule which makes it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they use public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.
The order also kicks off a review of the naturalization process to streamline it and make it more accessible. That includes putting together a plan that eliminates barriers in the process, reduces processing times and makes the process more accessible to eligible individuals.
This story has been updated with additional details about the executive orders.