On Tuesday February 2, 2021, the Trump administration issued three executive orders relating to immigration.
What do the orders say?
The first one establishes a task force to reunite families split up under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.
The second executive order called for the creation of a regional framework to examine the root causes of migration through Central America, to manage the flow of migration through the region, and to improve and restore protections for asylum seekers at the Southern border of the United States. It also calls for an evaluation of US asylum policy and adjudication for cases involving victims of domestic and gang violence and directs the relevant agencies to make sure that the protection being provided by the United States is consistent with international standards. This was a very detailed executive order and a positive signal from the Biden Administration regarding their approach to asylum seekers and how they intend to depart significantly from the border asylum policies and practices under the Trump Administration.
The third executive order creates a task force for new Americans which will work on welcoming and integrating new immigrants into US communities. It directs the Department of State, Homeland Security, and Attorney General, to review their policies and make a plan within 90 days to more effectively and efficiently administer immigration benefits, and to make sure that agency actions support full immigrant participation in society. There were over a 1000 policy changes under the Trump Administration, and a great number of them affected legal immigration. Tweaking and correcting all the minor policy changes that individually made up the bricks in Trump’s “immigration wall” will take time. However, simply having the new administration call for a correction of those policies is huge.
The third executive order also calls for a review of the final fee increase rule issued in August 2020, and also calls for a review of the policies regarding the “public charge” rule. It also calls for the Department of State, Homeland Security, and the Attorney General to come up with a plan to reduce naturalization time, and to promote a national strategy to promote naturalization.
What was missing from the orders?
With so much that needs to be fixed, there was a lot missing from the executive orders. For example, they failed to revoke the nonimmigrant and immigrant visa bans which are set to expire in March 2021, but which continue to affect families and businesses every day in the meantime. It would have been good to see them revoked outright.
The executive actions also did not revoke the Trump Administration’s requirement for health insurance for visa applicants, which requires them to show that they will be able to get health insurance within 30 days of coming to the US. The enforcement of that policy is currently enjoined by federal courts, but only for a few more weeks, so revoking it completely would have been helpful.
What do the orders mean?
The impact of these orders is to encourage and facilitate immigration, to promote fair and humane administration of immigration benefits, and to recognize that immigrants bring tremendous social and economic value to the United States.
This is refreshing attitude change after an administration that viewed immigration with suspicion and outright hostility and did everything in its power to put impediments in the path of immigrants. The damage of the previous administration did not happen overnight and will not be undone overnight. It will take time for this administration to act deliberately and carefully, but in the meantime, it is heartening to see the Biden Administration take a more positive posture towards immigration.