Border Separations Focus of Latest Executive Orders From Biden

The president condemned immigration abuses from the past four years, beginning with a mandate to reunite separated families.

Children line up to enter a tent at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Fla., in 2019. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Continuing his rollback of the last administration’s hardline immigration agenda, President Joe Biden called for major reforms to the country’s asylum programs Tuesday and is working to reunite the thousands of families separated at the border.

Biden signed three executive orders Tuesday evening, beginning what will likely be a long slog to undo the more than 400 immigration-related executive actions taken by former President Donald Trump since 2017. 

“This is about how America is safer, stronger and more prosperous when we have a fair, orderly and humane legal immigration system,” Biden said before signing the executive orders Tuesday. 

With the focus less on immediate action than on reviewing current policies, planning and making recommendations, Biden appears more interested in giving officials time to determine how to best undo the policies. 

“It’s indicative of a new era,” said Jorge Loweree, policy director of the American Immigration Council. “But it’s important to note that a great deal of work still needs to be done. The work of the prior administration led to the hollowing out of the infrastructure within our immigration system that has to be rebuilt.” 

Making good on one of his signature campaign promises, Biden will create a reunification task force to track down the parents of the 5,500 children identified in court documents as having been separated from their families during Trump’s presidency.

A court-appointed committee has yet to locate the parents of more than 600 children who were put in federal custody while the adults who accompanied them were incarcerated or deported for illegal entry under Trump’s so-called zero-tolerance policy.

It remains unclear if the task force will help bring parents back to the United States. 

“The task force will report regularly to the President and recommend steps to prevent such tragedies from occurring again,” according to a fact sheet from the White House. 

In a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the first report would be issued in 120 days, and then every 60 days afterwards. 

“We are trying to repair the damage and the horrific actions of the prior administration, by trying to do everything we can to reunite these kids with their families, but it remains a dangerous trip. This is not the time to come to the United States,” Psaki said. “We need the time to put in place an immigration process so people can be treated humanely.”

The task force will be led by Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who was confirmed by the Senate Tuesday afternoon. Mayorkas becomes the first Latino and first immigrant head of DHS. 

Advocates say that more needs to be done besides reunification. Loweree called for those who were separated from their families to receive permanent legal status in the United States and to be “compensated for the horrors that they experienced.”

In another executive action, the White House announced it will begin implementing a three-part plan for “safe, lawful, and orderly migration.” It involves helping to address the root causes of migration in Central America, in addition to the review of programs like the Central American Minors Program, which allowed children from Central America to reunite with family members in the United States. Trump ended the program in 2017.

Other Trump-era policies under review include the public charge rule — which denies green cards to immigrants who have used, or are likely to use, public benefits — and the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases are processed in U.S. courts. 

Already, last week, the Department of Homeland Security said it would no longer enroll anyone in the program. 

The orders follow a series of executive actions that Biden took on his first day in office: lifting the so-called Muslim travel ban, halting work on the border wall with Mexico, strengthening the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, reversing plans to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 U.S. census and deferring the enforced departure of Liberian nationals until June 2022. 

“There’s a lot of talk — with good reason — about the number of executive orders I’ve signed,” Biden said Tuesday. “I’m not making new law, I’m eliminating bad policy.”

Biden also proposed sweeping immigration legislation intended to give 11 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and issued a 100-day deportation moratorium — which was blocked last week by a federal judge in Texas.

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