Biden’s Immigration Reform Bill: The First Step in a Road to Recovery

January 20, 2021 | Texas

Cheasty Anderson

Today is a day long anticipated among immigration advocates – an end to the destructive, cruel, and harmful policies enacted by the Trump administration. President Biden has laid out, as promised, an aggressive immigration reform bill on his first day in office, and there is much to be praised in this bill. Among them are an 8-year path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently in the United States, an end to the 3 and 10-year bar on getting a visa for those who have been unlawfully present in the U.S., multiple provisions that would reduce the excessive backlog of current green card applications, and many others.

In the asylum system, the law would repeal the one-year filing deadline and authorize additional funding to reduce the backlog of positive asylum claims, which currently is an astonishing 300,000. It would also restore judicial discretion to immigration judges, which was revoked in recent years, tying judge’s hands.

A few provisions are of note in particular as reducing harm for children: first, an end to the policy in which children “age out” on nonimmigrant visas; second, a requirement that the government provide legal representation for children in immigration courts.

These are all good and aggressive steps forward for the Biden administration, and more than many pragmatists had expected. But the immigration system has taken a tremendous beating over the last four years, and prior to Trump already was riddled with problems. CDF-TX joins many of our allies in pressing for more aggressive reform, and soon.

The administration must act immediately to end the Migrant Protection Protocols, a program that daily causes harm and poses danger to those being forced to wait for their hearings, homeless and penniless, in Mexico. We must also act to create an independent immigration court system, rather than the current system, which operates as part of the executive branch and is therefore subject to manipulation, as we have seen. The Biden administration must move to end the arbitrary and traumatizing practice of family detention and embrace the many alternatives to detention that are humane, as well as less costly. And lastly, we must stop the practice of family detention, which is still in action every day. Just last weekend a 9-year-old boy was separated from his 19-year-old brother, with whom he had traveled, as they sought refuge at the San Francisco port of entry. The Texas Civil Rights Project has documented the many hundreds of family units that have been broken apart by our immigration and asylum systems since the end of our ‘official’ Zero Tolerance policy. This is an outrage and an abomination, a violation of human rights that cannot be tolerated.

We are fortunate to have a President who is famed for his empathy and good sense. It is our hope that this good immigration bill is just the first in a series of steps that will instill safe, reasonable, and humane policies in our immigration and asylum systems.