Biden Orders Review of Trump Policies on Illegal Border Crossing

President Joe Biden ordered a review and possible repeal of Trump-era policies intended to deter illegal migration at the U.S.-Mexico border and make it harder to legally obtain immigrant visas.

The trio of directives, which Biden signed Tuesday, also creates a task force led by the Department of Homeland Security to reunite families separated by President Donald Trump’s so-called zero-tolerance policy against illegal immigration. Biden called the policy a “moral and national shame” before signing the actions.

The president rejected criticism that he’s relying too much on executive power early in his presidency. Since his inauguration, he has signed dozens of actions to reverse Trump’s policies and reset the course of the government.

“I’m not making new laws, I’m eliminating bad policy,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office, where he was joined by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who won Senate confirmation earlier Tuesday.

Tuesday’s actions accelerate Biden’s push to reverse his predecessor’s strict immigration policies, which he denounced as cruel and pledged during the 2020 campaign to undo. With Tuesday’s orders, the new president has signed a total of nine actions on immigration during his first two weeks in office.

While the orders intend to erase Trump’s mandates, they leave some of them in place at least temporarily, a signal that the Biden administration is taking a cautious approach out of concern about inducing a surge in migration during the coronavirus pandemic.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday -- in a message directed at potential migrants -- that “this is not the time to come to the United States.” The new administration, she said, “needs some time” to put in place what she called a “humane” immigration system.

One of Biden’s orders directs a review of the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to wait outside the U.S. while their claims are adjudicated in court. The order does not scrap the Trump-era initiative. While no new asylum seekers are being sent into the program, those outside the U.S. won’t be allowed in until officials find a way to wind it down.

Biden is also leaving in place a Trump administration program enacted during the pandemic that allows authorities to quickly send migrants illegally crossing the southern border back to Mexico -- even if they might be ordinarily entitled to a longer legal process.

The orders also do not include two other Biden campaign promises: releasing children from Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention and raising the annual refugee cap to 125,000 to the historically low 15,000 ceiling imposed by Trump. It is possible the administration could take those actions at a later date.

“I think we’re going to have more again, soon,” Psaki said. “There is more the president will have to share on refugees and other issues.”

One of the orders focuses on what Biden has said is a priority for reducing illegal migration: addressing core problems in Central America that cause people to emigrate. The administration is also resuming an Obama-era program allowing people under 18 to apply to join their relatives in the U.S. instead of attempting to cross illegally.

The Biden administration will also begin a review of the previous administration’s so-called “public charge” rule, which made it easier for the U.S. government to deny visas to migrants on the grounds they could become reliant on public assistance.

Biden’s directives come on the heels of prior orders that halted construction on Trump’s border wall, terminated his ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority and African nations, ended Trump’s directive not to count undocumented immigrants in the Census and imposed a 100-day moratorium on deportations of most immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

The deportation freeze was put on hold by a federal judge in Texas last week while the court considers a request for an injunction by the Texas state government. The lawsuit shows how Biden could face obstacles in enacting his immigration agenda through executive power.

Biden on his first day in office proposed a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, which would offer a quicker pathway to citizenship to the 11 million people living illegally in the U.S. But the plan does not tie legalization to enhanced border security, a priority for Republicans. That could make it difficult to gain traction in Congress.

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