Did Biden fail to live up to his promise to immigrant communities?

Year in Review 2021: Immigration

Some Trump-era policies have gone, but a few other harmful laws are still on the books, RAICES tells the American Bazaar

As the year draws to an end, it’s time for most Americans to sit back and enjoy the holiday period. However for thousands of immigrant families across the US, the much-awaited holiday season yet again comes with a crashing of hopes.

While Michigan based Devi would be packing her bags to leave for India after calling America home for two decades as her daughter ages out; Seattle based Anusha would be spending the holidays fretting over her long awaited work permit.

So, has the year that began with the promising Biden presidency brought along any significant changes for the immigrant communities?

Read: US immigrant population hits a record 46.2 million (December 22, 2021)

As Texas based advocacy organization Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) puts it, “There is no sugar coating it – one year in, President Joe Biden has failed to live up to the urgent promises he made to immigrant communities when he first took office.”

“Leading up to November 2020, immigrant communities, advocates, and allies engaged in record numbers to usher in a new era of immigration politics with Biden in the White House and a Democratic majority in the House and Senate.”

“After four years of Trump,” RAICES says, “we were cautiously hopeful about the potential life-changing impact this administration and the Democratic majority in Congress would have for millions of undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.”

“At the bare minimum, we expected Democrats in Washington to end all of Trump’s cruel and racist immigration policies, and enact legislation that prioritizes the safety of our communities and treats us with dignity and respect.”

“But the Biden Administration has failed to meet those standards. It ended some Trump-era policies, but some of the most harmful and blatantly xenophobic Trump-era laws are still on the books,” RAICES says noting, “Kids are still in cages. Migrant families are still being torn apart by the US government.”

Read: Historic immigration reform in House spending bill (November 22, 2021)

Overview of Immigration in Biden’s First Year 

For immigrant communities, President Biden’s first year in office has felt like one broken promise after another. RAICES that advocates and provides litigation services to low-income immigrants highlights some crucial areas where the current administration may have failed the immigrant communities.

Ramping up border patrol: Instead of providing relief and refuge for asylum seekers, ICE has ramped up border patrol under Biden’s watch. Deportations under Biden have surpassed 1.28 million in just one year, compared to 800,000 in three years of the Trump administration.

At the beginning of 2021, the number of people in ICE custody was 15,415, the lowest number in 20 years, but under Biden administration that number has since increased to 21,811.

Expanding Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP): The Biden administration has not only failed to eliminate the Trump-era MPP policy requiring illegal or undocumented immigrants from certain countries to be returned to Mexico, it has expanded its scope to all countries in the Western Hemisphere.

These include Haiti, where thousands are fleeing in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake. In September, border patrol agents aggressively chased Haitian refugees on horses and rounded them up at the Del Rio Bridge.

Embracing Title 42 to expel and shut out asylum seekers: The Biden administration has also embraced the use of Title 42, a policy invoked by Trump senior policy advisor Stephen Miller to inflict terror on immigrant communities under the guise of public health, to expel and shut out asylum seekers.

This summer, Vice President Kamala Harris sent a searing message to refugees fleeing violence and corruption in Guatemala for safety and asylum in the US: “Do not come.”

Abandoning Negotiations for Family Separation Compensation: Biden promised to help the immigrant children and families still reeling from being separated and detained by Trump’s immoral zero tolerance policy.

However, after months of negotiations, the Biden Administration walked out of negotiations to compensate families impacted by separation at the US – Mexico border, abandoning the thousands of families torn apart by the prior administration.

Read: On National Immigrants Day, visa holders demand immigration reforms (October 30, 2021)

Using the Senate Parliamentarian as an excuse for not taking bold actions: Rather than protecting the millions of people who are still in the shadows by enacting legislation providing a pathway to citizenship through structural reforms to filibuster rules, the administration and Senate Democrats have been hiding behind the opinion of the Parliamentarian.

They are using the legislative interpretation of an unelected bureaucrat and former deporter as a shield for not taking bold actions to deliver on their responsibilities and commitments to the community.

Democratic leadership has shown no inclination to overrule the Parliamentarian’s decision, and is prepared to proceed with a vote on Build Back Better in January without even the bare minimum of protections for immigrant communities.

This year, RAICES launched the Keep The Promise campaign, demanding that Democrats keep their promise to the immigrant community and use every tool at their disposal, at the Congressional and executive levels, to give the undocumented community in the United States the freedom to work with dignity and respect, freedom from detention, and freedom from deportation.

In April, #UprootedandUplifted campaign was launched, reminding and educating the American public that nothing about US borderlands is welcoming — families are still separated and criminalized for legally seeking asylum, refugee admissions are at the lowest they have ever been, and a militarized border has contributed to ongoing human rights violations by enforcement agencies, especially CBP.

What’s Ahead for Immigration in 2022 

Last month, instead of delivering on their decades-long promise of citizenship for millions, House Democrats passed a version of the legislation that gave some members of the community temporary relief and kicked the can down the road hoping that a future Congress will have the courage to expand paths to citizenship for millions.

Now, the Senate is prepared to abandon these bare minima, milquetoast provisions.

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