Within the first days of his inauguration, President Joe Biden signed executive orders discarding some of his predecessor´s draconian immigration policies and unveiled the Citizenship Act of 2021, a legislative framework offering a path for millions of undocumented immigrants to adjust their status. Although imperfect, these initial steps offered a beacon of hope for immigrant communities. However, hope turned into frustration and then despair as the Biden administration could not implement the immigration policy changes it had promised.
On the legislative front, neither the House, even with a slim majority, nor the Senate has advanced any legislative framework to overhaul the immigration system. As an alternative, Democrats have been trying to integrate immigration relief into Build Back Better, a budget reconciliation bill that bypasses the filibuster and requires a simple majority to pass. However, the Senate Parliamentarian, who must issue an opinion on whether the immigration provisions can be included in the reconciliation bill, has thwarted all three proposals, including “Plan C,” a watered-down proposal that includes temporary protections but no path to citizenship. Senate Democrats have the right to disregard her opinion, but it is unclear if they have the votes to do so.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to implement some of the most egregious Trump immigration policies such as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or ¨Remain in Mexico¨ and Title 42. Although the administration announced the termination of MPP in October, a judge issued a federal injunction ordering resumption of the policy. The Biden administration announced plans to resume the program until the injunction is lifted. In addition, they expanded MPP to include Haitians and other previously exempt non-Spanish-speaking people from the Western Hemisphere, transferring asylum seekers to Mexico to await their hearings. This is yet another example of Biden targeting black asylum seekers, including the horrific forced removal and deportation of thousands of Haitians who took refuge under a border crossing bridge in Del Rio, Texas, this summer. Under the guise of public health, Title 42 further endangers the lives of asylum seekers by expelling them to Mexico or to the countries they have fled. So far in 2021, there have been at least 7,647 public media reports of violent attacks, including rape, kidnapping, and assault against asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico indefinitely in squalid, makeshift camps, according to Human Rights First.
At the same time, immigration detention has increased by 70%, and more than 26,000 people have been deported since Biden took office. Although Secretary Mayorkas sent a new memo to ICE with shifting detention and deportation priorities, the memo perpetuates the same criminalization framework that targets Black, brown, and other immigrants of color by giving too much discretion to ICE and CBP agents, both agencies with a long record of abuses. To make matters worse, the Biden administration is pursuing contracts to reopen former facilities closed under his Executive Order on private prisons as ICE detention facilities. And despite his campaign promise to end all 287(g) agreements made under Trump, Biden has only terminated one agreement.
Joe Biden promised a “fair and humane” immigration overhaul and a quick reversal of Trump's immigration policies while on the campaign trail; but thus far, he has reneged on many of his promises. At the same time, by hiding behind parliamentary procedures instead of exercising bold leadership, Congressional Democrats are also perpetuating a cruel and dysfunctional immigration system that criminalizes our communities, separates our families, and violates fundamental human rights. Immigrant and refugee communities in the South and across the country will continue to organize to hold the president and the Congress accountable for their promises to revamp the inhumane and broken immigration system, to end detention and deportation, and to secure a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.