President Biden came into office pledging to usher in a new era of U.S. immigration policy by rolling back his predecessor’s hard-line agenda, proposing to legalize undocumented immigrants, expanding legal immigration and making America a safe haven for refugees.
During his first 100 days as president, Mr. Biden halted border wall construction and ended some Trump-era policies, including broad restrictions on green cards. However, Mr. Biden has kept several of his predecessor’s immigration changes, including a historic-low cap on refugees and limits on asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mr. Biden has also yet to fulfill some campaign promises, like ending for-profit immigration detention and rescinding Trump administration rules that disqualified victims of gang and domestic violence from asylum.
A record increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children at the southern border has consumed much of the Biden administration’s early work on immigration. It has also been the focus of political attacks from Republicans, who believe immigration could be the Achilles’ heel of Mr. Biden’s presidency, which remains relatively popular, in part because of its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Republican attorneys general have already mounted legal challenges to Mr. Biden’s immigration policies, successfully blocking his proposed 100-day freeze on most deportations.
Mr. Biden’s proposal to place 11 million undocumented immigrants on a pathway to permanent legal status also faces an uphill battle in Congress, where Democrats hold slim majorities in both chambers. Some stand-alone bills, like ones to legalize “Dreamers” and farmworkers, have gained some Republican support, but it’s unclear if Democrats can secure 10 GOP votes in the Senate to bypass the filibuster.
A White House official said the Biden administration is focused on “rebuilding” the U.S. immigration system and reversing the hundreds of immigration changes made in the past four years. Trump-era rules that remain in place after Mr. Biden’s first 100 days could still be discontinued later on, the official said.
“We’re taking our time to do it right,” the official told CBS News. “We’ve had to sort of crawl out of a bit of a mess from the previous administration.”
Here’s an overview of how U.S. immigration policy has changed — or remained the same — during Mr. Biden’s first 100 days in office.
Despite some changes, Biden has retained Trump’s broadest border restriction
During the campaign, Mr. Biden promised to restore U.S. asylum laws, denouncing Mr. Trump’s border policies as draconian and inhumane.
On Inauguration Day, Mr. Biden suspended the so-called Remain in Mexico program that required 70,000 asylum applicants to wait outside U.S. territory while their cases were adjudicated. Since then, his administration has admitted more than 8,000 asylum-seekers who were previously enrolled in the program and allowed them to stay in the U.S. pending a final decision on their applications.
In February, the Biden administration withdrew from three Trump-era agreements with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that allowed U.S. border officials to re-route asylum-seekers to these countries. The move was largely symbolic, as the deal with Guatemala was the only one that had been implemented and deportations under it were paused in March 2020 due to the pandemic.
Despite these changes, the Biden administration has continued to cite a little-known public health authority first invoked under former President Donald Trump to expel tens of thousands of migrants without allowing them to apply for U.S. asylum.
The Biden administration has declined to expel unaccompanied migrant children under the public health authority, known as Title 42. But border agents have continued to expel most adult migrants and asylum-seekers, including families with children, to Mexico or their home countries.
As part of one of his early executive actions, Mr. Biden established a task force to locate and reunite migrant parents and children who remain apart after being separated near the southern border during the Trump administration. As of earlier this month, the task force had not yet reunited a family.
Biden has gradually eased Trump-era limits on legal immigration
Shortly after being sworn in, Mr. Biden revoked Mr. Trump’s travel and immigration limits on 13 countries, most of them Muslim-majority or African.
In late February, Mr. Biden rescinded a proclamation issued by his predecessor that banned the issuance of most immigrant visas during the pandemic. He did not, however, lift similar restrictions that Mr. Trump placed on work visas last summer, instead letting them expire in late March.
Last month, the Biden administration stopped enforcing the Trump-era “public charge” rules, which granted immigration adjudicators broader discretion to deny green card applications from immigrants determined to rely, or be at risk of relying, on public aid, like housing vouchers and food stamps.
Following through on one of Mr. Biden’s campaign pledges, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas offered Temporary Protected Status, a humanitarian protection from deportation, to up to 300,000 Venenzuelan immigrants in the U.S.
While the Biden administration has also extended deportation relief to some Syrian and Burmese immigrants in the U.S., it has yet to say whether it will reverse the Trump administration’s move to end TPS protections for 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras.
As part of an effort to expand pathways of legal immigration from Central America, the Biden administration revived an Obama-era initiative that allows some children in the region to reunite with family in the U.S. Mr. Biden’s deputies have portrayed the program as an alternative to the treacherous trek some Central American children embark on to reach the U.S. border.
DHS has also said it will issue a rule in the next few months to safeguard the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from a court challenge that threatens the deportation protections and work permits of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors.
On refugee policy, Biden has disappointed allies
Mr. Biden’s election elated refugee advocates who had been demoralized by Mr. Trump’s drastic cuts to refugee admissions and restrictions on resettlement, which collectively shut the door to thousands of people fleeing war and persecution around the world.
In his first weeks in office, Mr. Biden reiterated his campaign promise to admit up to 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022, a sevenfold increase from the record-low 15,000-spot ceiling Mr. Trump set. Mr. Biden also vowed to make a “down payment” by increasing the current fiscal year’s refugee cap to 62,500.
But Mr. Biden delayed signing the paperwork needed to enact his proposed changes for weeks, leading to the cancellation of flights for hundreds of travel-ready refugees who were subject to the Trump-era restrictions.
Mr. Biden finally issued a refugee order earlier this month. While he terminated Mr. Trump’s rules that restricted who qualified for refugee resettlement, Mr. Biden kept the historic-low 15,000-person cap, provoking swift and vocal condemnation from Democratic lawmakers and refugee advocates.
Amid the uproar, the White House backtracked later that day and said Mr. Biden would increase the refugee ceiling by May 15. As of last week, fewer than 2,300 refugees have been admitted into the U.S. this fiscal year, according to State Department data provided to the resettlement agencies.
ICE arrests have been curtailed, but broader reforms remain pending
Through a late-night order on Inauguration Day, the Department of Homeland Security barred the deportation of most immigrants in the U.S. for 100 days — the policy equivalent of Mr. Biden’s boldest immigration campaign pledge to enact a moratorium on deportations.
The unprecedented policy, however, was short-lived. Four days after the pause took effect, Texas convinced a federal judge to block it. Since the court order remains in place and the Justice Department has not appealed it, Mr. Biden’s vow to stop most deportations in his first 100 days went unfulfilled.
Despite this setback, the Biden administration has been able to limit arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency that has come under intense scrutiny from progressives, some of whom have advocated for it to be abolished.
On his first day in office, Mr. Biden rescinded an order issued by Mr. Trump that rendered most undocumented immigrants vulnerable to being arrested. ICE has since issued guidelines instructing agents to prioritize the arrest of immigrants deemed to pose a threat to national security, those convicted of certain crimes and recent border-crossers.
During the campaign, Mr. Biden said he would end for-profit immigration detention, but ICE has yet to make announcements regarding its multi-billion-dollar contracts with private prison companies, who run many of the agency’s detention centers.
ICE has, however, announced plans to wind down the long-term detention of migrant families, for now. It has converted two family detention centers in Texas into rapid processing hubs and started using hotels to temporarily house parents and children released from U.S. border custody.
As of last week, ICE was detaining about 15,000 immigrants, including more than 1,500 parents and children at the family holding facilities, according to the latest statistics.