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Legal Review: Changes To Immigration Policy Under Biden Administration’s First Year

One of the key tenants of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign was to reform immigration policies to be less restrictive and more welcolming to asylum-seekers and refugees. As President Biden enters the second year of his term, proponents and critics alike are analyzing what changes his administration made to immigration policy during his first year in office.

Changes To Immigration Policy To Date

Halting work on the U.S.-Mexico border wall construction was one of the first and most significant changes the Biden administration made to immigration policy. But it was by no means the only change; exemptions to current policies and operational changes to immigration organizations have also progressed the democratic agenda.

Changes to immigration policy and organizations to date include:

  • Title 42 Exemptions — Though Title 42 is still in effect for the most part, the new administration modified the policy to include humanitarian exemptions, such as for unaccompanied minors or families with young children
  • Refugee Administration Ceiling — President Biden raised the annual ceiling for U.S. refugee admissions from 15,000 to 62,500 in May 2021, and then to 125,000 for 2022; prior to the Trump presidency, the cap was 85,000
  • ICE Enforcement Priorities — Worksite enforcement operations, courthouses arrests, and detention of pregnant women are no longer priorities; instead, ICE focuses on immigrants who pose a national security threat
  • Citizenship and Immigration Services Documentation — This agency replaced the word ‘alien’ with ‘noncitizen’ and ‘undocumented noncitizen’ and vowed to make its immigration forms more accessible

President Biden said that his intention for immigration policy is to “stand as a beacon of liberty and refuge to the world” by “rebuild[ing]” and “renew[ing]” American’s commitment to “the most vulnerable.”

Immigration Policies From The Last Administration

Despite the changes the Biden administration has made, current immigration policies are still heavily influenced from the previous Trump administration.

“So far, we’ve seen some progress with improving immigration avenues as well as some holdover policies from the previous administration” says immigration attorney Brandon Ritchie of Ritchie-Reiersen Injury & Immigration Attorneys. “Any immigrants going through the legal process should contact an attorney to best handle the ever-changing immigration landscape.”

Below is a breakdown of the regulations and aspects of immigration policy that still remain in effect:

  • Title 42 — This policy requires rapidly removing migrants from the U.S. as a public health precaution; first introduced as a pandemic-related policy, the bulk of it remains in effect even though the U.S. opened travel to Mexico
  • Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — This policy states that migrants must stay in Mexico while waiting for U.S. immigration court dates; a federal court order reinstated this policy despite the Biden administration’s efforts
  • Detention Centers — Children are still being separated from their families and kept in detention centers along the border while the courts decide what to do with their parents or legal guardians

Border Network for Human Rights Director Fernando Garcia expressed disappointment at the lack of progress. Despite the Biden’s administrations recent changes, he stated that immigration policy still shows the “legacy of Trump at the border.”

But others are staunchly against changing current immigration policy. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called President Biden “reckless” and suggested that residents in states along the border would be unprotected if policies from the Trump administration were changed or removed.

Status Update On The U.S. Citizenship Act Of 2021

On his first day in office, President Biden unveiled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. This act outlined an eight-year path for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrations currently residing in America. However, it has stalled on Capitol Hill and has not yet been voted on by the House of Representatives or Senate.

And despite efforts from Democrats in the Senate to introduce immigration reform to spending and other bills, they have to date been unsuccessful. Republicans, who comprise 50 members of the 100-seat Senate, have vowed to remain united and oppose reform proposals. As such, the future of the U.S. Citizenship Act and other immigration policy reforms is uncertain.

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