SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months

Here are the steps President Joe Biden has taken on immigration so far

President Joe Biden waits to sign his first executive order in the Oval Office of the White House on Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. Behind him is a bust of Arizona native and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.

President Joe Biden has overturned a Trump-era ban that prevented immigrants from getting green cards to come to the U.S. to live permanently. 

Former President Donald Trump had argued the ban was necessary to protect American workers from competition from immigrants during the pandemic which resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs but are now recovering.

In overturning Trump's green card ban, Biden argued the ban 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," Biden said in a proclamation he signed Feb. 24. "It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world."

Trump's green card ban also harmed people who had applied for or had been approved for green cards through a diversity lottery visa program intended to foster legal immigration from a broader number of countries, Biden said in his proclamation.

More than 120,000 family-based visas were lost in 2020 due to Trump's green card ban, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Biden's proclamation lifting the green card ban was the latest in a series of changes in immigration and border policy Biden has taken since becoming president, many of them a 180-degree reversal of Trump's restrictive policies.

On Feb. 2, Biden signed three executive orders. The first creates a task force to help reunite the remaining parents the Trump administration forcibly separated from their children at the border. With the other two, Biden directs his Cabinet to review all immigration policies with the intent of eliminating some of the most restrictive ones, such as the public charge rule and the Migrant Protection Protocols.

"I'm not making new law; I'm eliminating bad policy," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office. "What I'm doing is taking on the issues ... that the president — the last president of the United States — issued executive orders I felt were very counterproductive to our security, counterproductive to who we are as a country, particularly in the area of immigration."

On his first day in office, Biden signed six executive orders and issued several more directives related to immigration and border security, and also proposed an immigration bill that would give the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. the opportunity to gain citizenship in eight years, shorter than the 13-year pathway in previous bills introduced in Congress.

ICYMI: Biden addresses immigration, pauses border wall construction and ‘fortifies’ DACA

Here is a running list of the Biden administration's actions on immigration and border security so far, with the most recent orders at the top. 

Family separation task force

The action: On Feb. 2, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that establishes a task force with the responsibility to find and help reunite the parents of all children the Trump administration separated as part of their "zero-tolerance" policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.

What it does: Formally known as the Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families, the committee will be chaired by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. It will also include the secretaries of State and of Health and Human Services, the attorney general, and any other government officials they designate. 

The group is tasked with finding and reuniting all parents who were forcibly removed from their children as part of the "zero-tolerance" policy between January 2017 and January 2021, essentially all of Trump's term in office.

The task force will provide Biden its findings of the best ways to reunite the families as well as policy recommendations.

The Trump administration separated nearly 5,500 children from their parents at the border in 2017 and 2018, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The majority of the parents have been found, but not all of them have been reunited with their children. 

Approximately 611 parents have yet to be found, according to the latest joint status report in federal court. More than half are believed to have been deported, while the remaining are believed to be in the U.S. 

Status: Under the order, the task force will have 120 days from Feb. 2 to provide Biden with its first assessment of the progress made in locating and reuniting parents. They will provide progress reports every 60 days until all families have been reunited.

The task force must provide a report by February 2022 with policy recommendations "to ensure that the Federal Government will not repeat the policies and practices leading to the separation of families at the border," the order read.

Review of immigration policies, public charge and naturalization

The action: Biden signed on Feb. 2 an executive order that directs his Cabinet, and in particular, the departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security, to review all policies and regulations to restore trust in the immigration process and to better integrate immigrants into the country.

What it does: The executive order includes few concrete actions but is more of a framework to review existing policies under the previous Trump administration, with the stated goal of rescinding or repealing some of the most controversial regulations. 

Biden directs the secretaries of State, Homeland Security and the attorney general to identify potential barriers keeping immigrants from accessing benefits and find ways to do away with those barriers.

It calls for a review within all executive branch departments of the "public charge" rule that the Trump administration implemented last February that restricted legal immigrants from obtaining a green card if they used public benefits such as food stamps and public housing assistance.

The order calls for a review of naturalization procedures with the aim of streamlining the process and removing certain barriers, including a proposed hike in fees under Trump, for permanent residents that are eligible to become citizens. It creates a working group to promote naturalization that will include the heads of five departments and a few other federal agencies.

Status: The three Cabinet officials named in the order (the secretaries of Homeland Security and State and the attorney general) will have 90 days to submit their plan to identify and remove barriers to naturalization and integration, and 180 days to submit a progress report. The three will have 60 days to each submit a report of how their departments will assess and address public charge policies. 

The working group established in the order will have 90 days to submit a strategy to Biden on how to promote naturalization.

Develop strategy to address root causes of migration

The action: The executive order Biden signed on Feb. 2 directs several executive departments with creating a strategy to address the root causes of migration from Central American countries.

What it does: Under the order, the secretaries of State, Homeland Security and the attorney general, joined by other the heads of federal agencies, must create a plan that looks at ways to tackle some of the biggest issues forcing people from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to flee.

That includes looking at issues such as corruption, violence by gangs and criminal groups, economic insecurity and inequality, to "ensure coherence of United States Government positions."

The order tasks the heads of those departments to create a strategy to boost regional cooperation with Central American and the Mexican governments to address the flow of migrants. 

As part of this strategy, Biden is committing the U.S. government to consult with regional governments, nonprofit organizations and other groups to come up with systems to help provide protection to asylum seekers, including resettlement, relocation programs and humanitarian assistance.

Several asylum seekers wait in line to get food donated by Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico waiting for the border to reopen for an asylum case. 
With COVID-19 cases spiking on both sides of the border, the U.S. government does not commit to a timeline to resume a court hearing for asylum seekers sent to wait in Mexico.

Biden's order calls for a review of lawful pathways to process individuals from the Northern Triangle countries eligible to be resettled in the U.S. as refugees. That includes looking at whether to bring back a program that Trump eliminated in 2017 to identify children in Central America that could be resettled in the U.S. as refugees.

Status: Unlike other executive orders, the portion addressing the development of strategies to tackle root causes of migration in Central America does not have any set timelines or mandated deadlines to submit reports.

Restore asylum processing at the border, end cooperative agreements

The action: Under the same executive action about the root causes of migration, Biden also instructed the secretaries of State, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin taking steps to resume asylum processing at the U.S.-Mexico border.

What it does: The order does not take concrete action towards restoring the processing of asylum seekers. It directs the departments to review several high-profile and controversial Trump policies.

The order mentions Title 42, the public health rule under which U.S. border authorities have turned away nearly 400,000 migrants since March. Biden so far has kept the rule in place, despite criticism that it denies asylum seekers and minors the right to get an asylum screening.

Biden's order calls for a review on whether to end or modify the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as "Remain in Mexico." It directs his administration to create a phased strategy to begin admitting and processing some of the nearly 70,000 asylum seekers sent to Mexico under the program.

The order tasks Biden's administration with reviewing other policies, such as the "third country" asylum transit ban, and states an intention to end the cooperative asylum agreements Trump negotiated with the three Northern Triangle countries.

Lastly, the order calls for a review of and raises the possibility of ending, the expedited removal process, which has allowed the U.S. government to deport certain immigrants without having to go through full removal proceedings. 

Status: The order does not provide a timeline for when the reviews of Title 42, MPP and the third country asylum ban should be completed. But it gives DHS 120 days to complete its review to look at expedited removal proceedings.

Biden's order gives the attorney general and Mayorkas 180 days from Feb. 2 to look at whether all refugee and asylum policies and regulations provide protections for individuals fleeing domestic and gang violence in their home countries. It gives them three additional months to issue regulations clarifying when someone is considered to be of a "particular social group" for the purposes of seeking asylum.

Overhaul of the U.S. immigration system

The action: On Jan. 20, Biden unveiled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. The legislation would combine a legalization program for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. unable to gain legal status under current law, with more spending for border-security technology at and between ports of entry along the US-Mexico border.

What it does: The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 would significantly alter the current system governing immigration in the United States. It has three main components: provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, boost investments at the U.S.-Mexico border, and tackle the root causes of migration from Central America.

U.S. passports lie on a table.

The legislation would give an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. the chance to earn citizenship provided they passed a criminal and national security background check and paid taxes. Undocumented individuals living in the country prior to January 1, 2021, would be eligible to apply for temporary legal status, and then five years later for green cards. Certain individuals who were deported from the U.S. during the Trump administration could be eligible as well.

Under the bill, certain subgroups, such as Deferred Action recipients, farmworkers and those with Temporary Protected Status, would be eligible for permanent residency immediately. All immigrants would be eligible to apply for citizenship three years after receiving green cards.

It prioritizes family-based immigration and tackles the immigration-court backlog, which now stands at about 1.3 million cases according to Syracuse University's Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse.

The Citizenship Act of 2021 would boost spending on technology and infrastructure at the border, especially at ports of entry that process millions of people each day, as well millions of dollars in trade. But it's also where most illicit drugs are smuggled into the country. 

The bill would invest $4 billion in Central American countries to tackle some of the serious problems that force migrants to flee their homes, and expands asylum processing capabilities and resources.

Status: The legislation was officially unveiled Feb. 18. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, is the bill's lead sponsor. Menendez was a member of the bipartisan group of senators known as the "Gang of Eight" that previously crafted a compromise immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 but failed to be heard in the House. U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., is the lead sponsor in the House of Representatives. 

Protecting DACA

The action: A Jan. 20 memorandum signed by Biden that directs his Homeland Security secretary, with input from the attorney general, to take actions to "preserve and fortify" the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

What it does: Biden's memorandum is intended to keep the Obama-era DACA program running until Congress passes legislation allowing young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers to apply for permanent legal status.

The program allowed Dreamers to apply for temporary deportation deferments and work permits that can be renewed every two years.

EXPLORE: Why a Phoenix 'Dreamer' wants to take this Arizona immigration musical to the White House

Trump attempted to rescind the DACA program, arguing it was created illegally, and asked Congress to address the issue. But Trump's demands that Dreamer legislation include billions of dollars to fund a border wall with Mexico were rejected by Democrats.

A sign reading "Defend DACA" during rally outside of the Supreme Court on Nov. 12, 2019.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration had the authority to rescind the program but had done so improperly. A federal judge in December then ordered the Trump administration to fully restore the program, including allowing Dreamers to apply for the first time. 

Status: There is still a lawsuit challenging the DACA program pending in a federal court in Texas filed by Texas and several other states. The lawsuit asks the judge to declare the DACA program illegal. A ruling on the case could come any day.

New immigration enforcement priorities

The action: A Jan. 20, 2021, executive order signed by Biden that sets new priorities for immigration enforcement.

What it does: Biden's order revokes an executive order signed by Trump in January 2017, days after he took office, that greatly expanded the list of immigrants who could be considered priorities for removal. Trump's order fulfilled a promise he made on the 2016 campaign trail that mass deportations of people in the country illegally would be part of his immigration policy.

CALLING ICE: Phoenix police connect with immigration agency 7 times a day

Trump's executive order also sought to restrict federal funding to cities and states that adopted so-called "sanctuary" policies that placed restrictions on cooperation with federal immigration authorities, but a federal judge blocked that provision from being implemented.

Sonora health officials, working with Mexican immigration officers, near the border.

"Immigrants have helped strengthen America’s families, communities, businesses and workforce, and economy, infusing the United States with creativity, energy, and ingenuity," Biden's order states. 

Biden's order says that his administration will "reset the policies and practices for enforcing civil immigration laws to align enforcement with these values and priorities."

Status: The Biden administration's immigration enforcement priorities are spelled out in a memo issued by Acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske. 

100-day deportation suspension

The action: A Jan. 20, 2020, memo issued by Acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske that stops immigration authorities from deporting many noncitizens for 100 days.

What it does: The memo instructs immigration authorities not to deport most noncitizens. Terrorists, terrorist suspects, spies, people convicted of aggravated felonies, and undocumented immigrants who arrived after Nov. 1, can still be deported.

The memo puts the most restrictions on Immigration and Customs Enforcement's ability to deport people since the agency was created in 2003, according to Alex Nowrasteh, at the Libertarian Cato Institute. 

Up to 25,000 noncitizens may not be deported as a result of the 100-day moratorium, the Migration Policy Institute estimates.

OPINION: Biden is darn right to impose a 100-day deportation moratorium

Immigrant advocates support halting deportations to protect undocumented immigrants who might qualify for legal status if Congress passes the immigration reform package. Critics say the 100-day pause will allow noncitizens who could pose a public safety threat to remain in the U.S.

The moratorium does not apply not to undocumented migrants apprehended at the border, where the Border Patrol continues to quickly expel almost every person caught under an emergency order put in place by the Trump administration due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Status: Biden's 100-day deportation moratorium never got a chance to be implemented. Days after Biden's administration announced the 100-day deportation pause, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton granted a temporary restraining order blocking the deportation pause from taking effect for 14 days. Tipton then extended the preliminary injunction another 14 days. Then on Feb. 23, Tipton granted a preliminary injunction that blocks the 100-day deportation pause indefinitely. The preliminary injunction was requested by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who argued the 100-day deportation pause threatened to cause financial harm to his state.

Proclamation to pause border wall construction

The action: A Jan. 20 proclamation that rescinded an emergency declaration at the border, and ordered a pause on ongoing border wall construction projects.

What it does: Trump had issued an emergency declaration for the southern U.S. border on Feb. 15, 2019. The move allowed him to tap into other federal funds to build physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, after Congress refused to allocate the funding he requested, leading to a government shutdown.

As a result of the emergency declaration, the Trump administration diverted $6.1 billion from the U.S. Defense Department and $600 million from the Treasury Department to fund numerous border wall projects, especially on public lands in California, Arizona and New Mexico. 

The construction site of the wall is seen from the Mexican side of the border.

A year later, the administration diverted an additional $3.8 billion from the Pentagon for wall construction. Together with $5.8 billion that Congress allocated for that purpose, the Trump administration had more than $16 billion to build border barriers. They completed 452 miles by the end of 2020.

Biden’s proclamation ending the emergency declaration ordered a pause on ongoing border wall construction projects and a freeze on awarding additional construction contracts so that the government can review the legality and the process by which the contracts were awarded.

It also tasks several of his top administration officials to develop a plan to redirect unused border wall funding for other priorities. 

As of Jan. 14, the Pentagon had awarded $7.55 billion in contracts for 22 border wall projects. Nine of those projects had not yet been finished, and approximately $2.35 billion in diverted military funds has yet to be awarded, according to statistics from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Status: Private contractors working on border wall projects have up to seven days after Jan. 20 to pause ongoing wall construction. Top Biden administration officials have 60 days to develop the plan to redirect border wall funding.

Stop new enrollments in the Migrant Protection Protocols

The action: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Jan. 20 issued new guidance suspending the enrollment of new cases under the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as MPP or “Remain in Mexico.”

What it does: The new guidance from DHS discontinues the practice of sending asylum seekers to Mexico under MPP for the duration of their asylum proceedings, which could take years. 

The directive applies only to new cases, but Biden has not announced what will happen to the approximately 70,000 asylum seekers that the Trump administration sends to Mexico since MPP began in January 2019.

Migrant advocates said the new guidance is an important first step. But they have urged Biden to end “Remain in Mexico” altogether, claiming that it is unlawful and in violation of U.S. and international asylum laws. 

DIVE DEEP: Under Trump, these communities lived with fear. They see hope in Biden but want action

Data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University showed that more than 27,000 asylum seekers had been regularly attending their asylum hearings, while 12,000 more were still waiting for their first hearing.

Status: The Biden administration announced Feb. 12 that about 25,000 asylum-seekers who had been waiting in Mexico and have active cases will be allowed into the U.S. The U.S. has began allowing small groups of asylum seekers to enter the U.S. at three ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Brownsville and San Ysidro, California. 

Keep travel restrictions, expulsions at the border under Title 42

The action: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would maintain non-essential travel restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, including the ability to turn away migrants apprehended at the border.

What it does: In March, the Trump administration and the Mexican government announced a series of restrictions on non-essential travel at the U.S.-Mexico border to fight the spread of COVID-19. Those restrictions allow for travel only for essential reasons, such as cross-border trade and commerce, education and medical services. 

But its enforcement has been largely one-sided. While U.S. border officials are enforcing those restrictions for north-bound travelers, visitors from the U.S. are largely able to cross south into Mexico unrestricted. And U.S. officials are unable to turn away U.S. citizens and permanent residents who cross into Mexico for non-essential reasons.

Vehicles with U.S. travelers line up at the DeConcini border crossing to travel south into Mexico on Dec. 17, 2020, despite restrictions on nonessential travel.

As part of the pandemic travel restrictions at the border, the Trump administration also enforced a public health rule from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Title 42 that allows border agents and officers to immediately expel migrants detained or apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The move is meant to keep agents from taking migrants into temporary holding facilities, which could be susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks, according to the rule. 

Since the restrictions began in March, the U.S. has expelled more than 393,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border under Title 42, according to statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Outgoing Trump administration officials had urged Biden to keep those restrictions in place, in order to prevent a surge in migrant arrivals at the border in the coming months. 

Status: The travel restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border, including expulsions under Title 42, have been renewed each month for the past 10 months. Biden has not indicated how long he will keep them in place. 

End of travel ban

The action: A Jan. 20, 2021, executive order signed by Biden that revokes a travel ban on people from several majority Muslim countries, and several countries in Africa.

What it does: Biden's executive order rescinds an executive order Trump first signed in January 2017 shortly after taking office that became known as the "Muslim ban." Trump argued the travel ban was needed to protect the country from terrorists. Trump had promised on the campaign trail to implement a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims from entering the United States."  Trump's "Muslim ban" was upheld by the Supreme Court in September 2018 after a protracted court battle that forced the Trump administration to rewrite several versions to pass legal muster. The original ban affected travelers from the mostly Muslim countries of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The final version removed Iraq and Sudan and added two countries that are not majority Muslim: North Korea and Venezuela. In January 2020, Trump added six new countries to the travel ban: Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania.

Biden's executive order said Trump's Muslim ban was not only discriminatory and contrary to America's values it undermined national security. 

"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," Biden's executive order said. 

Status: Under Biden's order, the secretary of state will direct U.S. embassies and consulates to process visa applications and provide a status report in 45 days. 

The order also instructs the secretary of state and Homeland Security director to provide a review of current vetting procedures and information-sharing along with recommendations for revising them within 120 days.

Deportation protections for some Liberians

The action: A Jan. 20, 2020, memorandum signed by Biden that protects Liberians who fled civil war from deportation under what is called Deferred Enforced Departure.

What it does: Biden's memorandum extends Deferred Enforced Departure to about 10,000 Liberians living in the U.S. for decades without legal status after fleeing a civil war in their home country. 

Liberia's history is linked to the  United States. The country in west Africa was founded by freed Black people who had been enslaved in the U.S.

The executive order allows Liberians who previously had been granted DED to continue to live and work in the U.S. for another 18 months.

Trump was in the process of phasing out DED deportation protections for Liberians to run out, arguing that the civil war in Liberia had ended and conditions had improved enough for them to return.

In December 2019, Congress enacted Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness, providing an opportunity for Liberian refugees to apply for legal status, but the program was cumbersome and as of December only 2,532 applications had been received, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

Status: The extension of DED for Liberians ends on June 30, 2020. Liberian community leaders hope the extension will buy them time in the U.S. until Congress passes immigration reform legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to legalize their status permanently. 

Rescind order excluding noncitizens from the Census

The action: A Jan. 20 executive order that revokes Trump’s previous efforts to exclude noncitizens from the apportionment process to redraw congressional and legislative districts.

What it does: Biden’s executive order revokes two of Trump’s executive actions. The first one is a Trump executive order from July 11, 2019, that directed the federal government to collect information on citizenship during the 2020 Census. The second was a memo from July 21, 2020, that sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment process.

Those efforts were immediately challenged in U.S. courts in multiple lawsuits, some of which are still ongoing. 

Many analysts believed those changes would have benefited Republicans because it would have diluted the political representation of areas with large numbers of noncitizens, mostly in large Democratic cities, during the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts.

Critics also argued that efforts to exclude noncitizens would result in fewer resources for those communities, because the Census is used to determine the distribution of federal money. 

In his order, Biden emphasized that his decision followed established precedent, according to the 14th Amendment, to include the enumeration of any person living in the country. 

"At no point since our Nation’s Founding has a person’s immigration status alone served as a basis for excluding that person from the total population count used in apportionment," he wrote.

Status: The Census Bureau already has missed a deadline to report population totals because of Trump’s last-minute changes. Those totals are expected to be published in the coming weeks. Once that happens, that information will then be distributed to the individual states so they can begin the process of redrawing their legislative maps. 

Reach the reporter at daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-8312. Follow him on Twitter @azdangonzalez.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.