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Biden Has Made Limited Changes to Immigration Policy

In this Aug. 23, 2019 file photo, immigrants seeking asylum walk at the ICE South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Biden Has Made Limited Changes to Immigration Policy
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As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden criticized the administration of then-president Donald Trump for its immigration policies. Biden also promised to pass reforms to permit more asylum-seekers and refugees.

However, Biden’s immigration policies in 2021 have not changed too much from those of the earlier administration. The biggest change was that Biden stopped building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Biden administration has kept enforcing what is called Title 42. That law requires the quick removal of migrants as a public health concern. Biden also tried to change a policy that required asylum-seekers at the southern border to stay in Mexico while waiting for U.S. immigration court dates. But a federal court ruled that the law, called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), must stay in place.

Immigrant supporters say Biden has made the U.S immigration system kinder. But they credit him with little else.

Fernando Garcia is director of the Border Network for Human Rights. He told VOA that “we can still see some of the kind of legacy of Trump at the border. That has not changed and we're disappointed that that is still happening.”

US-Mexico border and asylum seekers

In addition to stopping border wall construction Biden ordered an end to the stay-in-Mexico policy soon after entering office.

Texas, a U.S. state bordering Mexico, took legal action against the Biden administration to keep the policy. In August, a federal judge ordered the policy to remain in place.

The Biden administration is appealing the ruling. But the policy was restarted on December 6 after Mexico agreed to receive returned migrants.

The Biden administration has sought to end the MPP policy, but it has observed Title 42 rules related to public health.

Since March 20, 2020, thousands of migrants seeking to apply for asylum in the United States have been sent back to their home countries. But there have been some changes to Title 42 under Biden to permit unaccompanied children and families with young children to stay.


Former President Trump reduced the number of refugees permitted in the U.S. from 85,000 to 15,000.

Biden at first kept the refugee limit at 15,000, the lowest in modern U.S. history. After many Democrats criticized the decision, the administration raised the limit to 62,500. From October 2020 to the end of September, the U.S. has admitted just 11,411 refugees.

The administration has since raised the 2022 refugee limit to 125,000. But the administration has said the “goal [of 125,000 admissions] will be hard to hit.”

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Enforcement goals

Researchers say little has changed in federal border enforcement.

Jessica Bolter is an expert with the Migration Policy Institute. She said the Biden administration is centered on removing undocumented immigrants that are a threat to public safety. During the Trump administration, any undocumented immigrant living in the U.S. could be removed.

Bolter said the change has made most immigrants who do not have legal papers to be living in the U.S. less likely to be removed.

The Biden administration has worked to prevent Immigration Customs and Enforcement officers from making arrests at courthouses. Biden has also limited detentions of pregnant women.

Legal immigration

After more than a year of closures, U.S. embassies and consulates around the world have reopened for visa processing. However, services remain limited because of the pandemic.

In November, the U.S. State Department announced that more than 460,000 people are awaiting required meetings with officials. There is already a long list of those applying to live in the U.S. legally.

Immigration legislation slowed

On his first day in office, President Biden released an immigration reform bill: the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. It includes an eight-year path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

The bill has never been voted on by either the U.S. House or Senate. It is not expected to pass.

Since the Democratic Party controls the presidency and Congress, the inability to reform America’s immigration system is hard to accept for immigration activists.

“Our hope, our demand and our expectation were that this new administration was bringing a new air in regard to immigrants and immigration policy with a more humane approach to immigration, and we did believe that,” Garcia, from Border Network for Human Rights, told VOA.

I’m Dan Novak

Aline Barros reported this story for Voice of America. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

legacy n. something that comes from someone in the past that affects the present

construction –n. the process of building something

unaccompanied adj. alone; without someone else

undocumented adj. not having the official documents that are needed to enter, live in, or work in a country legally

applyv. to formally ask for a position or privilege such as admission to a school, a job or to legally live in a country

humaneadj. kind or gentle to others