On February 3, President Biden signed several immigration executive orders. In his remarks, accompanied by newly confirmed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, President Biden articulated his belief that the U.S. is safer and more prosperous when it has a safe and fair immigration system. These orders are largely a reversal of Trump administration hardline policies against immigration and focus largely on migration across the southern border and refugee and asylum policies. The orders do not address high skilled immigration, education related immigration policies, or COVID-19 related travel restrictions that have been put in place over the last year.
What is it?
These orders direct reviews of policies and do not, for the most part, have significant immediate impacts. They are focused largely on migration from the southern border. Specifically, the orders:
- Create a Task Force to Reunify Families: The Task Force will be chaired by the Department of Homeland Security and will work across the U.S. government, with representatives of impacted families, and partners to find parents and children separated at the border during the Trump administration. First Lady Jill Biden is expected to take an active role in this effort, along with the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, and Justice. The Biden administration has also revoked the Trump administration Executive Order that instituted the family separation policy. Executive Order on the Establishment of Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families
- Address the Root Causes of Migration Across the Southern Border: Founded in the belief that many who migrate across the southern border do so because of instability, violence, and economic insecurity at home, this order establishes a three-part plan to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border. The order commits to 1) address the underlying causes of migration in the region, 2) collaborate with regional partners to ensure protection and opportunities for asylum seekers, and 3) ensure that refugees and asylum seekers have legal avenues to the United States. The action also orders the Homeland Security Secretary to review the Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program), which sends asylum seekers to wait outside the U.S. while their claims are processed. The Administration has stopped adding asylum seekers to the program but does not allow applicants with pending cases to be allowed to immediately enter the United States. Executive Order on Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration, to Manage Migration Throughout North and Central America, and to Provide Safe and Orderly Processing of Asylum Seekers at the United States Border
- Establish a Review of Trump Administration Immigration Policies: Touting the benefits of immigration and the contributions of immigrants to the U.S., this executive order seeks to develop strategies that support legal immigration into the United States. The order 1) mandates a review of policies and guidelines that have set up barriers to U.S. legal immigration, 2) re-establishes a Task Force on New Americans to focus on integrating immigrants and refugees, and 3) requires a review of the Trump administration’s Public Charge Rule, which does not allow citizenship for immigrants who receive public benefits. Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans
Comprehensive immigration reform has been one of the most elusive policy dilemmas perplexing Democrats and Republicans for the past several decades. Both sides of the aisle have felt the immense weight of the issue which has proved too heavy to move forward and find a bipartisan solution.
President Biden began to lay the groundwork to tackle this important issue that impacts so many throughout the United States. Like previous executive orders issued by President Biden, the three executive orders announced yesterday draw a sharp contrast from the Trump administration. President Biden makes the concerted effort to achieve the delicate balance of establishing security at our borders while maximizing the contributions immigrants provide to our national fabric. In each of his executive orders, President Biden will form cross agency task forces primarily led by the Justice, Homeland, and State Departments to not only provide the best path forward, but to understand the root problems of immigration, specifically relating to migration across the southern border and family reunification. Interestingly, and perhaps purposely, high skilled immigration was not mentioned in the three executive orders. President Biden along with Senate and House Democrats made immigration reform a priority during the 2020 campaign and committed to make the issue a tier one priority as they begin the 117th Congress. Both the Senate and the House are in the process of crafting legislation in the near term. The challenge for President Biden, like so many of the other pieces of his agenda, is whether he can work with Congress to craft bipartisan legislation or will the heavy weight of these difficult issues prove to be too much for Democrats to carry alone.
- Executive Order on the Establishment of Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families
- Executive Order on Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration, to Manage Migration Throughout North and Central America, and to Provide Safe and Orderly Processing of Asylum Seekers at the United States Border
- Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans
- FACT SHEET: President Biden Outlines Steps to Reform Our Immigration System by Keeping Families Together, Addressing the Root Causes of Irregular Migration, and Streamlining the Legal Immigration System
- Video of President Biden’s Remarks