Biden signs orders reversing major Trump immigration policies

During his first day in office, President Joe Biden swiftly moved to dismantle major parts of the Trump administration’s immigration legacy by halting border wall construction, pausing most deportations from the interior of the U.S., rescinding travel and immigration restrictions on several Muslim-majority countries and safeguarding protections for so-called “Dreamers.”

Mr. Biden signed 17 executive orders — including six immigration-related directives — shortly after being sworn in on Wednesday as the country’s 46th president. The Department of Homeland Security also announced it would implement a 100-day moratorium on deportations for immigrants in the U.S. facing removal, and suspended the Trump administration’s policy of requiring non-Mexican asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court hearings.   

Through the flurry of early actions, Mr. Biden signaled his willingness to roll back former President Donald Trump’s restrictive immigration measures using the same executive authority that his predecessor invoked to enact more than 400 unilateral changes.

One memo signed by Mr. Biden ordered the Departments of Homeland Security to safeguard the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that offers works permits and deportation relief to more than 640,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. 

Mr. Trump’s attempts to suspend DACA were all blocked in court, but a federal judge in Texas has yet to rule on a lawsuit filed by Republican state attorneys general who are asking for the program to be declared unlawful.

Another directive issued by Mr. Biden revoked Mr. Trump’s travel and immigration restrictions on a group of 13 countries, most of which are predominantly Muslim or African. The order instructed the State Department to begin processing visa applications from the 13 countries.

“Those actions are a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all,” Mr. Biden wrote, referring to Mr. Trump’s restrictions, which he accused of being discriminatory.

Mr. Biden, through another directive, rescinded an order signed by Mr. Trump in January 2017 that broadened who immigration agents could arrest and deport. Mr. Biden said his administration would “reset” policies governing who immigration officials should prioritize for deportation.

“The policy of my Administration is to protect national and border security, address the humanitarian challenges at the southern border, and ensure public health and safety,” Mr. Biden wrote. “We must also adhere to due process of law as we safeguard the dignity and well-being of all families and communities.”

In a memo Wednesday, Acting DHS Secretary David Pekoske issued interim guidance instructing U.S. immigration officers to focus on deporting immigrants found to pose a national security threat, recent border-crossers and those who have been convicted of certain crimes. 

Pekoske also said the deportation freeze would not apply to migrants who arrived in the U.S. after November 1, 2020; those who pose a national security risk or are suspected of terrorism or espionage; and immigrants who agree to voluntarily leave the country.

A fourth presidential directive formally halted Mr. Trump’s bid to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census figures used to award states seats in Congress. 

Through a proclamation, Mr. Biden also ordered officials to pause barrier construction along the U.S.-Mexico border within seven days and ended the national emergency declaration Mr. Trump used to divert billions of dollars in military funding to finance his long-promised wall. During his last week in office, Mr. Trump had extended the proclamation through February 2022.

An additional memo extended work permits and deportation protections for certain Liberian immigrants in the U.S. It also required U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to expedite adjudication of green card applications from Liberians who are eligible for a legalization program passed by Congress in 2019.

Among other changes, Mr. Biden and his advisers have also vowed to use executive authority to terminate the “public charge” rules that make it tougher for low-income immigrants to obtain green cards and end several asylum policies Mr. Trump instituted along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In its statement announcing the suspension of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, DHS noted that emergency rules adopted by the Trump administration that allow U.S. border authorities to rapidly expel migrants without a court hearing would remain in place until further notice.  

DHS instructed migrants waiting in Mexico to “remain where they are, pending further official information from U.S. government officials.”

In a not-so-thinly-veiled warning to would-be migrants, the department also noted that those apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border going forward would not qualify for the immigration overhaul Mr. Biden has proposed to Congress, which, if passed by Congress, would allow millions of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. to obtain legal status.

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