President Joe Biden will sign three executive orders Tuesday that take aim at his predecessor’s hardline immigration policies and try to rectify the consequences of those policies, including by establishing a task force designed to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border, according to senior administration officials.
The latest orders build upon the actions taken in Biden’s first days in office and begin to provide a clearer picture of the administration’s immigration priorities.
“President Trump was so focused on the wall that he did nothing to address the root cause of why people are coming to our southern border. It was a limited, wasteful and naive strategy, and it failed,” one senior administration official said. “President Biden’s approach is to deal with immigration comprehensively, fairly, and humanely.”
Hours into his presidency, Biden moved to swiftly undo many Trump administration policies 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 on deportations, as the case proceeds.
Legal challenges are likely to continue to dog the administration as it sets forth its immigration agenda. On Tuesday, Biden is expected to follow his first-day actions by tackling family separation, the root causes of migration, and the legal immigration system.
The Senate is also expected to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as Homeland Security secretary on Tuesday, after Monday night’s vote was delayed due to weather.
Creating a task force to reunify families
During his presidential campaign, Biden pledged to set up a task force focused on identifying and reunifying families separated at the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy. The administration’s new task force stems from that promise.
The task force will be chaired by the Department of Homeland Security secretary and work across the US government, along with partners, to find parents separated from their children under the former administration. CNN previously reported that first lady Jill Biden is expected to take an active role in the task force.
It will be charged with identifying all children separated from their parents or legal guardians on the southern border, facilitating and enabling the reunification of children with their families, and providing regular reports to the President, including one containing recommendations.
The consequences of the “zero tolerance” policy which led to the separation of thousands of families are still felt today. Lawyers are unable to reach the parents of 611 children who had been split 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 awful harm the Trump administration inflicted on families,” a senior administration official said, calling the policy a “moral failure” and “national shame.”
The Justice Department also officially rescinded the policy last week in a memo to federal prosecutors, even though it had already been ended.
Cases of separated families will be examined on an individual basis to determine next steps. “The goal of the task force is one to identify, but two to make recommendations as to how the families can be united, taking into account the menu of options that exist under immigration law,” the official said.
Addressing root causes of migration
This executive order will focus on providing support to Central America to stem the flow of migrants to the US-Mexico border and provide other pathways to migrate to the US without journeying north.
The administration plans to provide aid to the region to support initiatives combating corruption and revive the Central American minors program that had been ended by Trump and allows certain at-risk youths to live in the US, according to a senior administration official.
Homeland Security will also be directed to review the Trump-era policy that requires non-Mexican migrants to stay in Mexico until their immigration court date in the United States. The policy, informally known as “Remain in Mexico,” has left thousands of asylum seekers waiting in dangerous and deplorable conditions on the border.
The Biden administration has stopped new enrollments into the program, but has not disclosed its plans to address 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 at the border will not transform overnight,” a senior administration official said. “This is in large part due to the damage done over the last four years, but we are committed to addressing it in full.”
The order will also call for a series of actions to restore the asylum system, which was drastically changed over the last four years and made it exceedingly difficult for migrants to be granted asylum in the US.
Reviewing the legal immigration system
This executive order seeks to promote immigrant integration and inclusion, according to the White House, and re-establish a Task Force on New Americans.
Like the other executive orders, it also seeks to reverse Trump-era policies that targeted low-income immigrants, including calling for a review of the public charge rule which makes it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they use public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.
The order also kicks off a review of the naturalization process to streamline it and make it more accessible, according to a senior administration official.