A U.S. Border Patrol agent prepares to transport two individuals encountered near Naco, Ariz., on Aug. 12, 2020. (CBP Photo by Jerry Glaser)

Biden Rolls Back Immigration Policies, Forms Task Force to Fix Border Family Separations

President Biden signed three executive orders Tuesday to roll back immigration policies put in place by the previous administration and establish a task force charged with reuniting families still apart from the zero-tolerance border separation policy.

Biden signed the orders with new Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at his side, just after the Senate confirmed the first Latino and first immigrant DHS leader and Mayorkas was swiftly sworn in.

Mayorkas did not speak at the Oval Office signing, but said in a statement late Tuesday that the orders would “help restore trust in our immigration system, reopen and reform our asylum process, secure the southwest border by addressing the root causes of migration, and reunite families separated under the Trump administration.”

“In keeping with our commitment to protect the American people, our homeland, and our values, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security welcomes the president’s action to ensure that our immigration system represents the empathy of the American people,” Mayorkas said. “These executive orders will allow DHS to take immediate action to address the most pressing challenges we face. Chief among these challenges is reunifying families who were separated during the last administration.  The atrocity of separating children from their parents is not easily remedied, but I pledge to do everything in my power to bring families back together and connect them with the resources they need to heal.”

“As we undertake this work, it’s critical that Congress build on these executive actions by passing the legislation proposed by President Biden to modernize our immigration system, responsibly manage our border, and create an earned path to citizenship,” he added.

The first executive order focuses on the federal government developing “welcoming strategies that promote integration, inclusion, and citizenship” and forms a Task Force on New Americans under the Domestic Policy Council. The secretary of State, the attorney general, and the secretary of Homeland Security are tasked with reviewing and reporting to the president on “existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions (collectively, agency actions) that may be inconsistent” with integration and inclusion of immigrants, including identifying “barriers that impede access to immigration benefits” and “any agency actions that fail to promote access to the legal immigration system” including the 20 percent fee hike at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in August.

Biden also ordered “immediate review” of agency actions on public charge inadmissibility, a rule implemented by DHS a year ago that required noncitizens to prove they would be self-sufficient and could not receive any public benefits for more than 12 months in a 36-month period. The agency heads were directed to review ways to “eliminate barriers in and otherwise improve the existing naturalization process, including by conducting a comprehensive review of that process with particular emphasis on the N-400 application, fingerprinting, background and security checks, interviews, civics and English language tests, and the oath of allegiance,” along with a potential reduction in fees and a plan to “substantially reduce current naturalization processing times.”

The order also directs the agencies to “review policies and practices regarding denaturalization and passport revocation to ensure that these authorities are not used excessively or inappropriately” and revokes the May 2019 presidential memorandum Enforcing the Legal Responsibilities of Sponsors of Aliens.

Biden’s second executive order focuses on addressing the root causes of migration from Central America and “collaborative management,” as well as providing “safe and orderly processing of asylum seekers” who arrive at the U.S. border.

“The Collaborative Management Strategy should focus on programs and infrastructure that facilitate access to protection and other lawful immigration avenues, in both the United States and partner countries, as close to migrants’ homes as possible,” the order states. “Priorities should include support for expanding pathways through which individuals facing difficult or dangerous conditions in their home countries can find stability and safety in receiving countries throughout the region, not only through asylum and refugee resettlement, but also through labor and other non-protection-related programs.”

The order directs the DHS secretary to “consider taking all appropriate actions to reverse the 2017 decision rescinding the Central American Minors (CAM) parole policy and terminating the CAM Parole Program” and “consider promoting family unity by exercising the Secretary’s discretionary parole authority to permit certain nationals of the Northern Triangle who are the beneficiaries of approved family-sponsored immigrant visa petitions to join their family members in the United States, on a case-by-case basis.”

DHS, DOJ, HHS, and CDC will work together to “promptly begin taking steps to reinstate the safe and orderly reception and processing of arriving asylum seekers, consistent with public health and safety and capacity constraints.” DHS will also “promptly review and determine whether to terminate or modify the program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP),” which sends non-Mexican asylum seekers to wait in Mexican cities. Migrants already waiting in Mexico may be considered for “a phased strategy for the safe and orderly entry into the United States” per the policy review.

The order also revoked multiple Trump administration orders, including a 2018 presidential memorandum ending “catch and release,” and orders DHS to review and modify or rescind the 2019 “Designating Aliens for Expedited Removal” rule that expanded quick deportations.

DHS and DOJ are given 180 days to report on “a comprehensive examination of current rules, regulations, precedential decisions, and internal guidelines governing the adjudication of asylum claims and determinations of refugee status to evaluate whether the United States provides protection for those fleeing domestic or gang violence in a manner consistent with international standards.”

And the third executive order vows to “ensure that children entering the United States are not separated from their families, except in the most extreme circumstances where a separation is clearly necessary for the safety and well-being of the child or is required by law,” while establishing the Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families to identify all children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border under the last administration’s zero-tolerance policy and find ways to reunite them.

“I’m not making new law; I’m eliminating bad policy,” Biden said at the signing, adding that he feels former President Trump’s executive orders “were very counterproductive to our security, counterproductive to who we are as a country, particularly in the area of immigration.”

“This is about how America is safer, stronger, more prosperous when we have a fair, orderly, and humane, and legal immigration system,” he said.

Biden called the reunification executive order an effort “to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration that literally, not figuratively, ripped children from the arms of their families — their mothers and fathers at the border — and with no plan, none whatsoever, to reunify the children who are still in custody and their parents.”

“By the grace of God and the goodwill of neighbors, we’ll reunite these children and reestablish our reputation as being a haven for people in need,” he said.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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