“Under a Biden Administration, we will never turn our backs on who we are or that which makes us uniquely and proudly American. The United States deserves an immigration policy that reflects our highest values as a nation.” The former words adorn the opening page of “The Biden Plan for Securing Our Values as a Nation of Immigrants” on what is now the former presidential candidate’s almost irrelevant campaign website.
And yet, in true politician-nature, the Biden Administration has sustained hundreds of deportations since inauguration day, January 6th. Under the 46th, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported nearly a total of three-hundred people, 15 back to Jamaica, and hundreds to Central America (namely Honduras and Guatemala).
Joe Biden ran on an immigration policy platform that reiterated many reminiscent ideas that never quite made it to the table under the Obama administration. This largely refers to the 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, or S.744, negotiated by the Gang of Eight, that passed in the senate 68-32 but brutally failed in the then Republican-majority house. S.744 established a 13-year citizenship pathway for undocumented immigrants, proposed a required workplace verification system that prevented unauthorized immigrants from working in the U.S., strengthened border security, and included a visa program-negotiated by labor unions- for lesser-skilled workers.
Following the disregard of S.744, the Obama Administration established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, and the Central American Minors programs that are now considered to be trademarks of the 44th’s immigration legacy. Of course, that legacy will also forever be demarcated by the three-million deportations that took place, many victims of which were working parents and homeowners. Nonetheless, Biden honored his promise of creating a task force dedicated to the reunification of families intended to detach from the “mistakes” made under his Vice Presidency.
Apart from this, President Biden has sent a bill titled The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress, with the promise of establishing a “new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” The bill aims at three main goals, each of which are complemented with their respective proposed means of achievement. Refer to the outline below.
PROVIDE PATHWAYS TO CITIZENSHIP & STRENGTHEN LABOR PROTECTIONS
- Create an earned roadmap to citizenship for undocumented individuals.
- Keep families together.
- Embrace diversity.
- Promote immigrant and refugee integration and citizenship.
- Grow our economy.
- Protect workers from exploitation and improve the employment verification process.
PRIORITIZE SMART BORDER CONTROLS
- Supplement existing border resources with technology and infrastructure
- Manage the border and protect border communities.
- Crackdown on criminal organizations.
ADDRESS ROOT CAUSES OF MIGRATION
- Start from the source.
- Improve the immigration courts and protect vulnerable individuals.
- Support asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations.
President Biden moved quickly with his immigration reform agenda, with its very initiation taking roots on January 6th, inauguration day, when he issued memorandum that called for a 100-day moratorium on deportations, with few exceptions that the Department of Homeland Security must prioritize. These exceptions included those that pose a threat to “national security, border security, and public safety.” The former is outlined to include specifically an undocumented immigrant that “has engaged in or is suspected of terrorism or espionage, or otherwise,” “was not physically present in the United States before November 1, 2020,” has voluntarily agreed to waive any rights to remain in the United States,” or “whom the Acting Director of ICE, following consultation with the General Counsel, makes an individualized determination that removal is required by law.”
And yet, none of the former successfully prevented the hundreds of deportations that have been carried out since the dawn of Biden’s Presidency. Because these priority changes for the Department were not effective until February 1st, deportations were allowed to take place between inauguration day and then. The time frame between the memo’s release and its effective date likely catalyzed a flow of I.C.E. targeting in an effort to deport undocumented immigrants before the moratorium. Thus, it must be questioned whether or not President Biden should still be held to the utmost accountability for these deportations. Based on the information above, it can be fairly stated that ICE took advantage of the memo’s effective date.
However, President Biden nonetheless allowed for such a transitional period and had full power of making the memo effective immediately, thereby protecting all potential victims of deportation. On one hand, President Biden reversed the essence of Trump-anti-immigrant policy set, at least temporarily, just moments upon being sworn in. On the other hand, in a genuine neo-liberal fashion, President Biden is celebrated as the savior from Trump’s immigration injustice while simultaneously allowing for prospective deportations to be carried out by I.C.E.
President Biden’s head of the Department of Homeland Security pick, Alejandro Mayorkas, was not confirmed by the Senate for the position until February 2nd, just a day after the memo was effective. Mayorkas, the first Latino and immigrant to serve as DHS chief, served as the deputy secretary at the DHS under the Obama Administration. This recycling of the Obama Administration’s leadership, then, also means the cross-contamination of the 44th’s moderate influence on the 46th’s Presidency that is constantly facing pressure to move further left. With all of this said, Mayorkas cannot be held responsible for these 300 deportations that took place prior to his confirmation. The acting secretary of the DHS Chade Wolfe cannot be either, since he resigned immediately following the Insurrection on capitol hill that took place on inauguration day. And while the Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor was responsible for overseeing Wolfe’s responsibilities following his resignation, who is to generally blame for the actions of the DHS is unclear. That is to say that the crisis of these deportations is more complicated than they seem on the surface and cannot objectively be chalked up to either innocent ignorance or active intent to deport on behalf of the Biden Administration.
What is clear, however, is that the circumstances of this instance may speak to a larger trend we can expect of the Biden Administration’s interactions with government departments. At face value, President Biden is staying true to his campaign rhetoric; however, he does so just liberally enough that he does not step on the toes of radical, immediate, and pot-stirring change. Giving President Biden the opportunity to enact his agenda (cutting him some slack, per-se) cannot come at the price of our ignorant dismissal of the signs that “nothing will fundamentally change”; the fact of the numbers is that President Biden oversaw, as Vice President, 3 million deportations under the Obama Administration and 300 hundred more under his own. When human rights are in question, as they relate to immigration policy and deportation of asylum seekers, subtle transitional periods do not suffice. Easing into justice does not suffice. Permitting the forceful removal of Americans from American soil cannot suffice. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 cannot be a “message-bill” to Congress that just merely suggests a symbolic direction of the Administration’s immigration policy plans. It must be defended fervently as a human rights agenda that cannot withstand ethically-costly compromise or steady implementation. Much of the conclusions drawn from the above will likely not read as a shock to the left, particularly those that “Settled for Biden.” After all, President Biden’s political history does not shout a favorable tolerance of progressive change. Though, as established, the deportation crisis that took place upon inauguration does not entirely offer a sole perpetrator, the victims are clear. In order to do right by these victims, the left must take Biden’s previous and current hand in these injustices as a sign to keep a close eye on his actions to come. Comprehensive immigration reform cannot be placed on the backburner of the 46th Administration.