(CNN) — US President Joe Biden signed three decrees Tuesday that target his predecessor’s hard-line immigration policies and seek to rectify their consequences. The measures include establishing a task force designed to reunite separated families on the US-Mexico border.
The latest decrees are based on actions taken during Biden’s early days in office. And they begin to provide a clearer picture of the administration’s immigration priorities.
“I am not making a new law, I am eliminating bad policies,” Biden said at the White House, about the series of decrees he signed. He was accompanied at the event by Vice President Kamala Harris. Also, the recently confirmed Secretary of National Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
“It is about how America is safer, stronger and more prosperous when we have a fair, orderly and humane legal immigration system,” the president added.
The decrees signed this Tuesday largely mandate a policy review and have no immediate impact. It worries immigration activists and lawyers struggling to find answers about the future of immigrants subject to Trump-era policies.
Alida Garcia, vice president of defense for FWD.us, told CNN she was excited about Tuesday’s announcements. However, he noted that there is also “frustration over the urgency for service providers to have clarity in their ability to counsel people in life and death situations.”
“We hope to hear more tough logistics soon,” he added.
Hours into his presidency, Biden took steps to quickly undo many policies of the Trump administration in a series of executive actions. He also sent an immigration bill to Congress. But his administration has already faced legal hurdles in implementing those policies. Last week, for example, a federal judge temporarily blocked Biden’s 100-day pause in deportations, as the case progresses.
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Legal challenges are likely to continue to haunt the government as it sets its immigration agenda. On Tuesday, Biden is expected to follow up on his first-day actions addressing family separation, root causes of migration, and the legal immigration system.
The Senate is also expected to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security on Tuesday, after Monday night’s vote was delayed due to weather.
Creating a task force to reunify families: a Biden bet on immigration
During his presidential campaign, Biden vowed to establish a task force focused on identifying and reunifying separated families on the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy. The new task force stems from that promise.
The task force will be chaired by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and will work across the US government, together with partners, to find parents separated from their children under the previous administration. CNN previously reported that First Lady Jill Biden is expected to take an active role on the task force.
It will be tasked with identifying all children separated from their parents or legal guardians at the southern border, facilitating and enabling the reunification of children with their families, and providing periodic reports to the president, including one with recommendations.
The consequences of the “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of thousands of families are still being felt today. Attorneys are unable to contact the parents of 611 children who were separated from their families by US border officials between 2017 and 2018, according to the latest court filing in an ongoing family separation case.
“The Biden administration is committed to remedying this terrible damage that the Trump administration inflicted on families,” said a senior administration official, calling Trump’s policy a “moral failure” and a “national disgrace.”
The Justice Department also officially rescinded the policy last week in a memo to federal prosecutors, even though it had already ended.
The cases of separated families will be examined individually to determine the next steps. “The objective of the working group is one, to identify, but, two, to make recommendations on how families can unite, taking into account the menu of options that exist under immigration law,” said the official.
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Address the root causes of migration
This decree focuses on providing support to Central America to stop the flow of migrants to the United States-Mexico border and provide other ways to migrate to the United States without traveling north.
The administration plans to provide assistance to the region to support initiatives that fight corruption and revive the Central American minors program that had been terminated by Trump and allows certain at-risk youth to live in the United States, according to a senior administration official.
The Department of Homeland Security will also be instructed to review the Trump-era policy that requires non-Mexican migrants to remain in Mexico until the date of their immigration court hearing in the United States. The policy, informally known as “Remain in Mexico,” has left thousands of asylum seekers waiting in dangerous and deplorable conditions at the border.
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The Biden administration has halted new enrollments in the program, but has not disclosed its plans to serve the thousands of migrants still waiting in Mexico, saying only that they will be taken into account as new systems are put in place.
“The situation on the border will not change overnight,” said a senior administration official. “This is largely due to the damage caused in the last four years, but we are committed to addressing it in its entirety.”
The decree will also call for a series of actions to restore the asylum system, which has changed dramatically in the past four years and made it enormously difficult for migrants to obtain asylum in the United States.
Review of the legal immigration system, another of the measures that Biden signed
This decree seeks to promote the integration and inclusion of immigrants, according to the White House, and to reestablish a Task Force for New Americans.
Like the other two decrees, it also seeks to reverse Trump-era policies that targeted low-income immigrants, including calling for a review of the public charge rule that makes it more difficult for immigrants to obtain a legal status if they use public benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers.
The decree also begins a review of the naturalization process to streamline it and make it more accessible, according to a senior administration official.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism