In the heat of the the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden made a point of positioning immigration reform as one of the tentpole platforms of his candidacy — a move designed not only to seem proactively on top of the issue, but one which conspicuously cast him in stark relief with then-President Donald Trump's history of racist, xenophobic, and overtly cruel attitudes toward immigration broadly and migration through America's southern border in particular.
Now, just over a month into Biden's presidency, we've reached the point where the rubber is necessarily meeting the road, the campaigning in poetry has transitioned to governing in prose, or whichever other cliché about shit getting real appeals to you most today. So where do things stand in regards to the Biden administrations stated goal of "undo[ing] Trump's damage and reclaim[ing] America’s values"?
It's a decidedly mixed bag.
Last week, the White House and congressional Democrats released the text of their proposed immigration bill — a massive, sweeping measure that would, among other things, provide the means for undocumented people, and in particular those brought to the U.S. as children, to become full-fledged American citizens. It's a move that reflects both the Biden campaign's stated promise to tackle what has long been one of the most entrenched — and under the Trump administration, venomous — issues in Washington, as well as the growing sense of urgency to resolve the issue before the 2022 midterm elections, which could see the Democrats lose their narrow majorities in both the House and Senate.
The Biden team quickly followed the rollout of the proposed measure with the announcement on Wednesday that he was lifting his predecessor's freeze on many forms of legal immigration, including green cards and multiple visa forms, enacted this past June. The ban was initially set to last through March, and was justified at the time by Trump as ostensibly safeguarding the fragile American economy during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, in lifting the order, Biden pushed back on the Trump administration's explanation, saying in a statement that the Trump order "does not advance the interests of the United States. To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world. And it harms individuals who were selected to receive the opportunity to apply for, and those who have likewise received, immigrant visas through the Fiscal Year 2020 Diversity Visa Lottery."
Yet despite these limited moves away from the Trump administrations legacy of bigoted cruelty, the Biden administration has hardly pulled a full reversal. Despite announcing a moratorium on deportations just days into his administration, Biden's plans to halt the removal of undocumented peoples from the United States was essentially ignored by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which continued to expel a number of people who no longer fit the priority criteria mandated by the White House. Then, on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton ruled in favor of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who sued the Biden administration to block the deportation moratorium entirely.
Perhaps most viscerally disappointing of all of Biden's immigration policy failures so far has been the administration's decision to reopen the migrant child detention center in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which is equipped to hold up to 700 teenagers. The Biden administration also decided to reactivate the Homestead detention center in Florida. Their justification was that the COVID pandemic coupled with their policy of no longer immediately expelling unaccompanied minors as the Trump administration did means that facilities like Carrizo Springs and Homestead are necessary to safely handle the overflow of young migrants.
"[It's] never our intention of replicating the immigration policies of the past administration," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki insisted during a press briefing this week.
But even the phrase "child detention facility" has been enough to attract criticism from within Biden's own party. "This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay — no matter the administration or party," New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet responding to the news of the reopened facilities.
But, she added in a subsequent tweet, progress takes patience. "It's only [two months] into this admin and our fraught, unjust immigration system will not transform in that time. That’s why bold reimagination is so [important]," she said.