President Joe Biden signed wide-ranging executive orders Wednesday to end travel restrictions from predominantly Muslim and African countries, initiate a halt to border wall funding and strengthen protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. The orders dismantled major portions of former President Donald Trump’s restrictive immigration policies.
The Biden-Harris White House reversed proclamations that barred most people from several majority Muslim and African countries to travel to the U.S. In a conference call with reporters, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, described Trump’s policy as “nothing less than a stain on our nation” and “rooted in xenophobia and religious animus.” The former Trump White House had defended the proclamations as needed to keep America safe.
Though the order says it will provide relief for families that were separated by Trump’s travel restrictions, it also calls for strengthening screening and vetting for travelers by “enhancing information sharing with foreign governments.”
Biden is “preserving and fortifying” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has protected from deportation hundreds of thousands of migrants brought illegally to the United States as minors. In his proclamation, Biden called on Congress to pass legislation that gives DACA recipients permanent legal status and a path to U.S. citizenship.
DACA was created by the former Obama administration in 2012 and was repeatedly targeted for termination by the Trump administration. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately preserved the program, ruling that the Trump administration had improperly sought to dismantle it.
There are about 700,000 people enrolled in DACA, which still faces legal challenges.
Biden has ended the national emergency declaration Trump issued to fast-track wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border. Although Congress appropriated additional wall funding late last year, the Biden administration is expected to review construction contracts and move to halt additional border barriers.
The new administration has paused deportations of undocumented immigrants while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reviews enforcement priorities.
Welcomed today at @DHSgov HQ as Acting Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security until Mr. Mayorkas is confirmed. Thank you to the men and women across the Department for your commitment to the DHS mission! pic.twitter.com/EOJumELq7T— David P. Pekoske (@TSA_Pekoske) January 20, 2021
Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick to be DHS secretary, appeared for a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Mayorkas pledged to follow U.S. immigration law in deciding whether migrants and the undocumented remain in the country.
Biden also revoked a plan to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count used to decide each state’s representation in the House of Representatives. The new administration says it wants the Census Bureau to have the necessary time to complete “an accurate population count.”
In 2018, Trump sought to include a citizenship question in the census questionnaire but was blocked by the Supreme Court. Last year, however, the high court dismissed a challenge to the former administration’s plan to exclude the undocumented from the census tally used for congressional apportionment.
Biden has also unveiled a proposed eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has agreed to introduce the bill in Congress.
4/ This plan is not only about fixing our broken immigration system but building a better one that reunites families, brings the undocumented community out of the shadows and on a path to citizenship.— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) January 20, 2021
The legislation would make millions of undocumented immigrants eligible for permanent U.S. residency after five years and eligible to seek citizenship three years later. The timeline would be accelerated for DACA recipients and those with Temporary Protective Status for fleeing armed conflict or natural disasters. Applicants would have to have entered the United States before January 1 of this year.