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President Biden Takes Significant Actions on Immigration Reform on Day One
BMK Group

The inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden heralded a significant shift in U.S. immigration policy. On his first day in office, the President signed five immigration-related executive actions, presidential memoranda, and agency directives and sent a sweeping immigration reform bill to Congress. In broad strokes, here’s a round-up of the President’s executive actions and the reforms he is seeking from Congress.

Executive actions

Reversing the “Muslim travel ban”

President Biden reversed the Trump administration’s so-called “Muslim travel ban,” which consisted of two proclamations restricting travel and immigration to the U.S. from several countries, many of which have majority Muslim populations. The order instructed the State Department to process visa applications from the 13 countries currently on the list and to develop a plan to “remedy the harms caused by the bans.” 

Stopping the wall

The new president also signed orders to repeal the national emergency that former President Trump declared concerning the southern border. This action halts funding and therefore construction of the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall, which was a signature campaign promise of the Trump administration. 

Safeguarding DACA

President Biden sent a memo to the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security ordering that they take all appropriate actions to fortify the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This action follows efforts by the previous administration to undo protections for 640,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. While most of these attempts were defeated in court, one challenge is still pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Reforming immigration enforcement

President Biden issued a directive to rescind an order signed by President Trump in 2017 that lifted Obama-era limits on who could be arrested and deported by immigration agents. The directive charges agencies with setting immigration policies that are more in line with the Biden administration’s “values and priorities.”

Extending protections for Liberians

A fifth order extended deferrals of deportation and work authorizations, until June 30, 2022, for citizens of Liberia who fled that country’s civil war to seek haven in the U.S. The Trump administration had sought to the eliminate that protection. 


Providing pathways to citizenship  

President Biden’s proposed U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 would create an earned roadmap to citizenship for undocumented individuals (who were in the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2021) by allowing them to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes. Dreamers, TPS (temporary protected status) holders and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements would be eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation. After three years, green card holders who pass additional background checks could apply to become citizens. 

Keeping families together and embracing diversity

The Act would reform the family-based immigration system by clearing backlogs, recapturing unused visas, eliminating lengthy wait times and increasing per-country visa caps. It would also eliminate the so-called “3 and 10-year bars” and other provisions that often prevent families from unifying. Further, the Act would explicitly include permanent partnerships to eliminate discrimination facing LGBTQ families and increase Diversity Visas from 55,000 to 80,000. The bill also includes the NO BAN Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on religion and limit presidential authority to issue future bans. 

Promoting immigrant integration

The legislation would provide new funding to state and local governments, private organizations and nonprofits to expand programs to promote integration and inclusion, increase English-language instruction and provide assistance to individuals seeking to become citizens. 

Bolstering employment-based immigration

This Act would include measures to clear employment-based visa backlogs, recapture unused visas, reduce lengthy wait times and eliminate per-country visa caps. It would also make it easier for graduates of U.S. universities with advanced STEM degrees to stay in the country, improve access to green cards for workers in lower-wage sectors, and eliminate other hurdles for employment-based green cards. The Act would also provide dependents of H-1B visa holders with work authorization and prevent children from “aging out” of the system. Further, the Act would create a pilot program to stimulate regional economic development, allow the Department of Homeland Security to adjust green cards based on macroeconomic conditions, and incentivize higher wages for non-immigrant, high-skilled visas to prevent unfair competition with American workers. 

Supplementing existing border resources  

The legislation would authorize additional funding for technology and infrastructure to expedite screening and enhance the ability to identify narcotics and other contraband at ports of entry. The Act would fund training to promote agent and officer safety and professionalism. It would also create a Border Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee, provide more special agents to investigate criminal and administrative misconduct, and provide funding to develop guidelines and protocols for standards of care for people in Customs and Border Protection custody.

Addressing root causes of migration

The Act would increase assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, conditioned on their ability to reduce the corruption, violence and poverty that causes people to flee their home countries.

Improving the immigration courts 

The Act would expand family case management programs, reduce immigration court backlogs, expand training for immigration judges and improves technology for immigration courts. 

Supporting asylum seekers, other vulnerable populations 

The Act would eliminate the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims and provide funding to reduce asylum application backlogs. It would also increase protections for U visa, T visa and VAWA applicants, including raising the cap on U visas from 10,000 to 30,000. The bill also calls for the expansion of protections for foreign nationals assisting U.S. troops.

If you have questions about how the new administration’s immigration policies will impact you, please contact us at Barst Mukamal & Kleiner at Founded in 1930, Barst is one of the oldest immigration law firms in the United States and provides comprehensive immigration and business law services. 

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