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President Joe Biden has vowed to completely reform how the U.S. handles immigration.
In the first two weeks of his presidency, Biden has begun taking action to stop the border wall, family separation, support DACA recipients, reverse the public charge rule, and is planning further legislation to create an easier path to citizenship for immigrants.
How does Biden’s immigration reform affect Latino immigrants?
Let’s take a look at the different immigration policies Biden has in store.
Update 3/10/21: Biden’s administration stopped enforcing the public charge rule first enforced by Donald Trump’s administration, according to CBS News.
Update 7/22/21: The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reaffirmed that the public charge rule is no longer in effect and encouraged states to educate immigrant populations on accessing public benefits.
Defunding the U.S. and Mexico Border Wall
One of former President Trump’s largest and most controversial campaigns was the U.S./Mexico border wall, which critics opposed for divisiveness and cost. The wall was never complete.
In his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order to stop construction of the wall and redirect the taxpayer money that was allocated toward it.
“It shall be the policy of my Administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall. I am also directing a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct a southern border wall,” according to the executive order.
Advocates have said they hope Biden will go a step further by removing the sections of the wall that the former administration was able to establish.
With the border wall construction halted, Latino communities living on the border will be able to live there more peacefully and cross over more easily, according to Bloomberg CityLab.
But people living in the area are left to deal with the environmental impact of creating the wall.
“It’s a disaster, a mess, the suspended laws must be put back on the books to give border communities equal protection, and every section looked at carefully so that it can be torn down in a coordinated and responsible way, and the damage addressed immediately,” said Dan Mills, the Sierra Club’s borderlands program manager, according to The Guardian.
DACA, also known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an Obama-era policy that shields young immigrants from deportation by giving them short-term work permits.
Trump sought and failed to repeal DACA legislation, spurring anxiety.
Biden announced an executive order to “preserve and fortify DACA.” A plan to protect DACA is also a part of Biden’s larger immigration bill he plans to present to Congress.
“Of greater potential consequence, Biden urged Congress, as part of an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy, to pass legislation making Dreamers eligible to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. immediately and for citizenship after three years. Biden also proposes allowing other immigrants living illegally in the U.S. to become candidates for residency in five years and for citizenship in eight,” according to the Washington Post.
The majority of DACA recipients are from Mexico and Central America, meaning the preservation of this policy will allow many more Latino immigrants to work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
Ending Family Separation and the “Zero Tolerance” Rule
Another Trump-era policy that Biden wants to reform is the family separation, or “zero tolerance” immigration rule that was enacted to discourage families from illegally immigrating to the U.S.
Biden repealed the Trump policy and plans to take action to reunite families separated at the border.
The family separation policy was very destructive to Latino families who immigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life, advocates said. Without this rule, advocates hope families will be treated more humanely and have an easier time entering the country.
Reversing the Public Charge Rule
Biden pledged to reverse Trump’s public charge rule as part of his campaign. Action on this rule could take place during Biden’s next round of immigration executive orders later this week.
“Allowing immigration officials to make an individual’s ability to receive a visa or gain permanent residency contingent on their use of government services such as SNAP benefits or Medicaid, their household income, and other discriminatory criteria undermines America’s character as land of opportunity that is open and welcoming to all, not just the wealthy,” according to Biden’s campaign website.
The Trump rule was harmful for Latino immigrants, dissuading them from taking part in nutrition and housing assistance programs in fear of it affecting their immigration status.
Advocates are hoping Biden makes true on his promise soon, so that Latinos can have fair access to health programs.
Providing a Pathway to Citizenship
As a part of his immigration reform, Biden plans to create a large immigration bill that covers all the above topics and makes the pathway to citizenship easier for immigrants.
“The Biden proposal calls for granting five-year temporary status for qualified applicants, who would then be able to apply for a green card, or permanent residency status, if they passed background checks and paid taxes, according to the transition team’s statement,” reports Julián Aguilar for the Texas Tribune.
The bill will be presented to Congress in the coming weeks.
Some of the goals of this bill include “keep families together, embrace diversity, grow our economy, and protect workers from exploitation and improve the employment verification process,” according to the White House Press.
The bill, if passed in Congress, will provide major relief to Latino immigrants who are seeking to build a life in the U.S.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Advocates hope that Biden will swiftly end the remaining harmful Trump immigration policies and be able to quickly enact policies that protect Latino immigrants who have suffered under Trump’s era.
While many celebrate the initial policies and executive orders as victories, others say we must be vigilant and persistent and that the fight isn’t over.
“It’s just the beginning. Now we have to see what else they’re going to do,” said Lorella Praeli, president of Community Change Action, an organization that fights for equity for low-income people, according to The Hill. “They’re going to have to put in serious political capital and prioritize legalizing people via congressional action and continue to take seriously the need for a massive overhaul of our immigration enforcement system.”
While legislators work on providing equity for Latinos on the federal level, you can make a difference by advocating for your neighbors on the individual scale.
You can fight for your neighbors to have equitable access to resources like food, education, healthcare, and more by downloading a customized Salud America! Health Equity Report Card.
Email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share it on social media, and use it to make the case to give resources where help is needed most.