Biden immigration plans hit early snags

Biden immigration plans hit early snags

Originally Published in The Hill

Brett Samuels - January 29, 2021

President Biden is running into some early roadblocks as he seeks to quickly dismantle the Trump administration's immigration policies and implement his own.

A federal judge put a temporary freeze on Biden’s 100 day moratorium on deportations, some Senate Republicans are slow-walking his top Homeland Security nominee and the announcement of a committee to reunify families separated at the border during the Trump era has been postponed.

Since taking office Jan. 20, Biden has dedicated each day to a different policy area by rolling out related executive orders. Friday had been slated for immigration, with Biden planning to unveil an order forming a committee focused on family reunification and other actions that would rescind or review Trump policies, according to a memo obtained by The Hill.

"We’ll have more to say next week on immigration, the president will, so we’ll have more to report out to you in the next couple of days," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Thursday briefing.

The White House declined to comment on the reason for the change in timing.

The shift in scheduling comes as Biden has pushed to reverse some of former President Trump's most consequential actions on immigration. And despite the early setbacks, immigration advocates remain optimistic about Biden’s agenda.

"It’s just the beginning. Now we have to see what else they’re going to do," said Lorella Praeli, president of Community Change Action. "They're going to have to put in serious political capital and prioritize legalizing people via congressional action and continue to take seriously the need for a massive overhaul of our immigration enforcement system."

Biden has already encountered some GOP resistance on the immigration front.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden's pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and implement key aspects of his immigration agenda, was denied a swift confirmation vote in the Senate after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) put a hold on the nomination.

The hold required an extra procedural vote, which Mayorkas cleared on Thursday, and he is likely to get confirmed on Monday.

That unexpected delay may have contributed to the postponement of additional immigration orders that require DHS participation. One of those orders, which would reunite migrant families separated at the border, was among the items White House chief of staff Ron Klain pledged in a memo Biden would take action on by Feb. 1.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center and former co-chair of the 2020 unity task force between the campaigns of Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said the orders need to be able to stand up to legal scrutiny once introduced.

"We want to make sure that the Biden administration avoids what the Trump administration did," she said.

In an initial blow on the legal front, a federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its 100 day deportation freeze while a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) plays out.

A White House spokesperson expressed confidence that the legal review process would show the moratorium was "wholly appropriate."

"President Biden remains committed to taking immediate action to reform our immigration system to ensure it’s upholding American values while keeping our communities safe," the spokesperson said.

Immigration advocates and congressional Democrats have high hopes for Biden's plans after his predecessor spent four years reshaping the system, mostly via executive power.

Trump took a series of actions that lowered refugee admissions, banned entry for certain migrants and immigrants, increased domestic immigration enforcement and made it more difficult for those seeking asylum to enter and remain in the United States.

Biden made quick work of reversing some of Trump’s most controversial immigration policies on his first day in office. He signed orders rescinding Trump's travel ban on certain Muslim-majority countries, terminating the national emergency declaration for the southern border and strengthening the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Trump tried to rescind.

Attention will soon turn to Capitol Hill, where Biden has already sent a legislative proposal to overhaul the immigration system and where Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) plan to introduce legislationto protect immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who meet certain work or education requirements.

An immigration deal has remained elusive for years in Congress. The Obama administration managed to garner bipartisan Senate support for a bill when Biden was vice president, but the legislation languished in the GOP-controlled House and never became law.

"I am under no illusions. I know from my time in the Gang of Eight that passing immigration reform through the Senate is a herculean task," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who will sponsor the Biden bill in the Senate, said last week.

Biden's proposal provides a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants, includes additional funding for technology along the border, and aims to address the root causes of migration in Central America, where migrants have fled by the thousands to the U.S. in recent years.

Some Republicans have balked at the pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers and other protected groups. But one official familiar with the proposal said the bill was likely staking out left-leaning priorities, with the hope that Republicans will be willing to compromise in some areas.

"Reforming our immigration system is long due and we expect elected officials from both sides of the aisle to come to the table so we can finally get this done," a White House official said.

Morgan Chalfant contributed.

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