President Joe Biden’s First 100 Days in Office Show Quiet Success on Immigration, But with More Work Needed at the Border and for the Undocumented
As the Biden administration completed 100 days in office on April 30, it achieved—if somewhat quietly—several important immigration policy goals outlined in January of this year and promised during the 2020 presidential campaign. These have restored many pre-Trump policies and realigned immigration priorities with long-held traditional values of welcoming the newcomer and basic due process. Gone are the wholesale and zero-tolerance policies of the prior administration, including family separation, travel bans, indiscriminate border expulsion, overbroad interior enforcement, elimination of support for the poor, and closing citizenship pathways for Dreamers, to name a few.
To date, the administration has taken nearly 100 executive actions on immigration, more than any other prior U.S. administration, especially during the first three months in office. These include creating narrower and more humane enforcement priorities in the interior of the U.S., terminating most pre-existing travel and visa restrictions, extending humanitarian protections to nationals of Venezuela and Myanmar, making immigration benefits more accessible, and beginning to fashion a new approach to border enforcement. Most notably, President Biden followed through on his promise to support immigration legislation that includes legalization for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented, and he has been a catalyst for the advancement of several other legalization proposals in Congress.
These achievements have somewhat escaped notice because of the amount of public attention given to conditions at the southern border—and the administration’s uneven response to them—particularly concerning asylum seekers, families and unaccompanied children, and other migrants seeking safe haven. On the one hand, unaccompanied children are now permitted to enter and access asylum procedures, the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” expulsion program is being unwound, and the White House, under the leadership of Vice President Kamala Harris, is actively engaged in addressing migration root-cause conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. On the other hand, the Biden administration has fumbled in developing a consistent message and adequate policy to deal with the increased number of children and family arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border, which is the highest it has been since March 2001. For example, it was—and continues to be—slow to expand temporary capacity to shelter unaccompanied children, and it has yet to offer a new way forward to develop a system of asylum adjudication that does not further burden the immigration courts and perpetuate an already unmanageable backlog of case.
Nevertheless, the President acted swiftly to rescind harsh Trump-era policies and put in new policies that make the immigration system more welcoming. Indeed, the results show: indiscriminate ICE arrests are down 60%, the interior detention of individuals and families is down by two-thirds, individuals banned from applying under the Muslim travel bans can now reapply (over 49,000), the issuance of family reunification visas is now reinstated, and USCIS will begin processing Central American Children refugee cases again.
These are good returns in the first 100 days, but more needs to be done. While Catholic Charities will support the administration in ongoing border, asylum, and detention reform, we will hold it first to a promise of legalization and pathway to citizenship for the millions of immigrants in America who have built, served, and cared for their new home–especially during this time of a national and global pandemic–with generous talent, energy, hope, and faith.
Mario Russell Esq.
Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services