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Summary of President Biden’s Immigration Policy Changes in 2021

It’s been a little over a year since Joe Biden took office as the 46th President of the United States of America. President Biden ran his campaign on an agenda of undoing the previous Trump administration’s policies across the board. One hot-button issue in the election cycle was that of immigration. President Biden made quite a few campaign promises explaining how he would fix the immigration crisis. Now that the year has passed, it’s time to look at President Biden’s immigration policies for the year of 2021.

Almost immediately after taking office, President Biden halted the construction of the Trump administration’s most visible symbol of their immigration policy – the border wall. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, 438 miles of the wall was already completed, most of this construction occurring on Federally owned land in Nevada and Arizona. The Biden administration also put an end to the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) soon after taking office. MPP was the Trump administration’s policy of keeping asylum seekers on the Mexican side of the border while they waited for U.S. immigration court appointments. However, when the MPP policy was ended, the state of Texas sued the government to reinstate the policy, this effort was successful and the MPPs were reinstated, with small chances of this practice going away anytime soon. Many proponents of immigration have called on the Biden administration to repeal Title 42, a policy instated by former President Trump which mandates the U.S. to expel migrants as a public health precaution due to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Biden has shown no efforts to remove this policy as the pandemic continues to rage, however, it was altered to exempt unaccompanied minors and families with young children from expulsion. 

In terms of dealing with refugees, the Biden administration has been hit with some harsh criticism. In keeping with the Trump administration, Biden initially kept the refugee cap at 15,000 (a major decrease from 85,000 from before Trump). This landed him in hot water with immigration proponents, urging the President to increase the cap. In May, the President raised the cap to 62,500. However, for the fiscal year 2021, refugee admissions totaled just 11,411. More recently, the administration raised the refugee cap for 2022 to 125,000, with a goal to fill all those spots. Time will tell if this ambitious goal can be met. 

Not much has changed in terms of border enforcement under the Biden administration. With record high migration to the U.S.-Mexico border, there are also record amounts of arrests of migrants as well. Main changes are more behind the scenes, with ICE refocusing arrest efforts on migrants who pose a threat rather than all migrants and banning ICE from courthouse and workplace arrests.

Regarding legal immigration, the Biden administration is dealing with massive backlogs within the immigration system. It’s reported by the State Department that 460,000 people are waiting for interviews to receive Green Cards and other immigration statuses to be approved. These problems cannot be completely attributed to the Biden administration as the COVID-19 pandemic makes this process much more difficult. However, the President has made little changes to the services/processes USCIS uses to ease the flow of legal immigrants. One of the largest changes that the administration has made is requiring USCIS to replace the word “alien” with “noncitizen” or “undocumented noncitizen.” Hopefully in the future the administration will take further action to mitigate the difficulties the legal immigration system is experiencing.

President Biden’s main piece of immigration policy, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, has been held up since his time in office began, with neither the House nor Senate voting on it yet. This bill would have included an 8-year path to citizenship for any undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Immigration legislation has failed to pass this past year mainly due the failure to secure a majority vote, a hard thing to do in a split government. 

As Biden ends his first year as President, he has disappointed both immigration advocates for keeping many of former President Trump’s policies in place and those who oppose immigration for not being aggressive enough to combat the U.S. border problems. Hopefully things turn around for the Biden administration in 2022 and some much-needed immigration reform can pass. 

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