Despite taking a backseat to the pandemic as its chief campaign issue in recent months, the upcoming Biden administration’s immigration plan included promises to undo many of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
On the heels of President-elect Joe Biden’s election win Saturday, migration policy experts on Monday discussed the new administration’s robust plans for immigration, underscoring issues like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and the construction of border wall structures along the U.S.-Mexico border, and Migrant Protection Protocols, to name a few.
During the Trump administration’s time in office it successfully altered the landscape of immigration policy — instituting two travel bans, one as he took the oath of office in 2017, and another in 2020 at the onset of COVID-19 that has now restricted travel for specific people in more than 10 countries; and attempts to undo the Obama-era DACA program.
Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, said Biden made several promises regarding immigration. These included ending the travel bans, enacting a moratorium on deportations, refocusing arrests on public safety threats in the U.S., reuniting separated children with their parents, and ending the public charge rule, to name a few.
Pierce said Biden’s approach, ambitious as it may be, could still push through some of these promises through executive orders, like the travel bans, and with regard to DACA.
Pierce also said the travel bans, and the reinstatement of DACA, which the Trump administration attempted to end, could be reversed with a memo from Biden.
The reinstatement of DACA could potentially open the program up to more than 400,000 young foreign nationals who were immediately eligible for DACA benefits but unable to apply during the Trump administration. This includes 56,000 people who became eligible since the Trump administration tried to end DACA in September 2017.
With regard to other Trump-era immigration policies, such as Migrant Protection Protocols, also referred to as “Remain in Mexico,” which forced asylum seekers to remain in Mexico as their asylum case was processed, MPI analysts said they believe this too can be reversed with a simple memo but would require significant logistical planning to deal with the nearly 70,000 people who are currently or were previously enrolled.
In contrast, MPI analysts said Trump administration policies that were enacted as a result of new regulation, will present the new administration with a more “time-consuming, and burdensome” process, as they would have to issue an entirely new regulation to undue the Trump administration’s rule.
It’s important to note that analysts stated that some regulations could be reversed through the Congressional Review Act. This law allows Congress to reverse regulations enacted within the last 60 working days of Congress — regulations that were finalized in late to mid-March of this year.
If lawmakers pass a joint resolution in both houses that is then signed by the president, those regulations would be reversed.
Mostly done through emergency action, the Trump administration at last count has constructed nearly 400 miles of “new wall system,” from California to Texas, a point not lost on many Rio Grande Valley landowners who had their own land threatened by the administration’s actions.
As the Trump administration plowed ahead seizing land in the Valley to fulfill a campaign promise to the rest of the nation, landowners fought back in the form of public protest, and eventually, litigation to protect their land from the government’s contracted workers.
Biden, for his part, has promised to not build even one more foot of border wall.
In contrast to the wall building of the Trump administration, Biden has promised to use sensors and watchtowers at ports of entry, in lieu of physical barriers across the U.S.-Mexico border, as he works to use tech.
In addition to technology, Biden’s plans for border security include improving screening at ports of entry, where most illegal drugs enter the country, and “building on partnerships with Mexico and Canada.”
MPI associate policy analyst Jessica Bolter said if Biden were to live up to his promise, the current lawsuits at the federal level would likely be settled.
“…Assuming that a Biden administration is not going to be building additional wall; they really don’t have any reason to be trying to get land from private landowners to build a wall on,” Bolter said Monday. “These lawsuits would probably become pretty irrelevant.”
Bolter added that the government could retract the position it had taken under the Trump administration with regard to the seizure of land for border wall construction and settle the lawsuits currently being litigated.
She said Biden’s administration could terminate contracts for wall construction, possibly even if they’re in the middle of construction, which the government has leeway to do.
“…A future Biden administration would still likely need to dedicate some funds to barrier maintenance, but if (Biden) really doesn’t construct another foot of wall that would be a break from the last five administrations,” Bolter said.
She said new barrier construction has been going on since the George H.W. Bush administration.
The associate analyst also discussed steps the Biden administration could potentially take to deal with the Trump administration’s use of Department of Defense funds for border wall construction, an issue of contention among Democrats and Republicans alike.
In February 2019, Trump issued an emergency declaration allowing him to use billions of dollars appropriated for military construction projects for border wall construction and related construction. There are currently lawsuits in court related to his use of defense funds for wall construction.
Bolter said Biden could immediately end Trump’s emergency declaration via a presidential proclamation.
She said there’s the question of what will be done with the funds already transferred but not yet used, but underscored that ending the transfer of future defense funds doesn’t necessarily mean that wall construction stops.
The analysts said that although Biden will have opportunities to reverse some of Trump’s immigration policies, they believe it will be a difficult set of goals to accomplish within 100 days, much less a four-year term due to the large amount of changes the Trump administration pushed “to nearly every corner of the U.S. Immigration system.”
They added that his administration will likely not be as focused on immigration as the Trump administration was these last four years as it may have to immediately deal with other severe issues, specifically getting the pandemic under control.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct a typo in the first paragraph.