Everyone knew that Joe Biden had a lot to prove when he assumed office following Trump as the 46th President of the United States. His election campaign had promised a radical sweep of new policies within his first day, which would characterize his administration's attitude and commitment to change.
Thankfully, he not only delivered on the promises (and wishes of his voters) to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement and producing new mandates on the enforcement of mask-wearing in federal government buildings. He also shockingly announced an expansive set of proposed Bills, actions and plans to tackle the issue of immigration in America, which had been a staple of the Trump presidency but had featured only in a small degree within the Biden election campaign. The US is known for having an arduous immigration process similar to that of the UK’s, and is an incredibly salient issue among the public.
Biden announced that he was using executive action to roll back Trump’s attempts to exclude undocumented people from the census, to end the so-called Muslim ban, to reverse the policy that prioritized the deportation of criminals and also ceased the declaration that the former President Trump used to divert funds to the wall on the US-Mexico border. For many, this would have been enough to settle their nerves, for the time being, surrounding Biden’s dedication to change.
However, the administration illustrated that their main aim was not to just simply reverse the actions of Trump but to introduce a new policy that would progress the society of America and mend the divides caused by xenophobia and racism. Biden’s new focus of adjudication rather than enforcement was seen in the extension of the protected immigration status of 4000 Liberians who had fled their country due to armed conflict and an Ebola outbreak. He also emphasized plans to address the root causes of migration by sending aid to Central American countries suffering from the climate crisis, violence and poverty.
In addition to this, Biden cemented his administration’s focus on immigration by announcing the process of introducing the proposed US Citizenship Act 2021. This plans to allow undocumented immigrants (who entered the country before the 1st January 2021) to apply for legal status and then apply for a green card after 5 years, subject to the passing of background checks and paying their taxes. These individuals would then be able to apply for citizenship after 3 years of holding a green card, setting up a clear 8 yearlong route for immigrants which had previously not existed. The green card would be made available instantly to DREAMers, temporary protected status holders and immigrant farmworkers. Alongside this, he underlined his support for the DACA program, which Trump tried to remove, that allows those who were brought into the US as children without legal documents to temporarily get works visas and be protected from deportation.
The action taken by Biden on his first day in office surprised pro-immigration activists, particularly as he had not voiced his focus on immigration on many occasions. Many expected him to follow in the footsteps of President Obama, who had promised immigration reform in the first year of his Presidency but did not actually commit until his fifth year. The policy ultimately sets the scene for his Presidency moving forward, as it is clear that his administration is taken on a more sympathetic and humane approach than his predecessor.
Despite this surprising attitude, Biden’s policy is not perfect. Many of us are disillusioned as a result of the chaos of the Trump presidency and have been led into believing that anything is better than what was being legislated previously. However, for America to progress to being a fair and accepting society once again, criticisms need to be made and Biden still needs to be held accountable when necessary.
The US Citizenship Act 2021 sounds idyllic, but it is evident that it could face a great deal of trouble getting through the Senate, as it is being suggested that around 60 Senators will need to be convinced to vote in favour of it to ensure that it passes. Furthermore, even if the Bill does get passed, it is not placing many undocumented immigrants in a more stable position than beforehand. An 8 year wait for citizenship is not ideal for some, and completely impossible for others. The lengthy route does not take into account the other societal factors that influence the lives of immigrants, such as poverty, employment struggles, racism and lack of healthcare; all of which create barriers for individuals in reaching the citizenship stage. The Bill also does not provide any support for immigrants entering the US after the 1st January 2021, leaving the course of their lives in America mostly unknown.
It also needs to be addressed, that such an array of pro-immigration policies being introduced so quickly could have troubling effects among Republicans and Trump voters. After the insurrection that occurred merely three weeks ago, the announcement of such a U-turn could act as an inciting factor for growth in xenophobic and racist attacks. Biden mentioned multiple times within his inauguration speech that his main aim was to unite America once again, but introducing policy such as this before doing so, could lead to deeper and more complex divides.
Ultimately, Biden has demonstrated that humanity is a more central theme of his administration and that the future could hopefully see a more accepting America for immigrants. It is important though to acknowledge that going forward, comparing Biden's policy to Trump's policy is unsustainable, as it hinders criticism and blinds us to wrongdoings, even if they are less diabolical. The support going forward for immigrants needs to be strong, as, after all, America is a nation built and sustained by immigrants.
"Aaron Gates-Lincoln writer for Immigration News, a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices around the world."He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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