Analysis: the president-elect has pledged to adopt a wide range of far-reaching immigration measures during his first 100 days in office

By Alan DesmondUniversity of Leicester

During the past four years, Donald Trump has issued hundreds of executive orders to make the US immigration system more restrictive and the US a more hostile environment for immigrants, particularly asylum seekers and the undocumented. President-elect Joe Biden has already provided a detailed outline of his plans on the immigration front for the coming four years, much of it focused on undoing (what some view as the harmful) policies pursued by the Trump administration.

Biden has committed to adopting a wide range of far-reaching immigration measures during the first 100 days of his presidency, including an end to the construction of the border wall with Mexico, a temporary stop to deportations and an end to separation of parents and children at the US-Mexico border. The fact that so many of the changes made to the US immigration system during the Trump administration were based on executive orders and proclamations means that they can be immediately overturned by a new president. A number of key issues are in particularly urgent need of attention and amenable to executive action.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From CBS News, Camilo Montoya-Galvez reports on how Joe Biden plans to dismantle much of the immigration agenda Donald Trump has implemented over the last four years

Travel bans

One of Trump's first actions as president was to ban immigration from a number of Muslim-majority countries in January 2017 "in order to protect Americans". Following modification, the ban was ultimately upheld by the US Supreme Court, and expanded to cover six other countries and specific groups of Chinese citizens and asylum-seekers.

In exercising his presidential powers to issue these bans, Trump relied on section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This allows entry of classes of foreign nationals to the US to be barred where the president determines such entry "would be detrimental to the interests of the United States." In the absence of evidence that they are needed to protect Americans, and given their status as executive actions, Biden is in a position to quickly make good on his promise to immediately rescind these "un-American travel and refugee bans"

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland in June 2017, then RTÉ Washington Correspondent Caitríona Perry on the newly reinstated Trump travel ban

The undocumented

The US is currently home to an estimated 10.5 million undocumented migrants, citizens of other countries who have entered the US without permission or who have remained on in the country after expiry of visas. While nearly half of this number is made up of Mexican nationals, it also includes thousands of Irish citizens. Many undocumented migrants have lived for decades in the US and belong to "mixed status" families having married partners who are lawfully resident or US citizens.

These migrants and their families will have been pleased by Biden's statement that his number one priority as president will be to send a bill to Congress to provide for a path to citizenship for all undocumented migrants. However, the odds are long on a quick legislative fix for such a contentious issue, particularly given the likelihood that Republicans will retain control of the Senate. A more realistic outcome is that Biden will rely on executive action to offer some form of permission to remain and work for specific categories of undocumented migrant.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Cian McCormack reports on the effect of the pandemic on undocumented Irish in New York 

Refugee resettlement

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, identifies particularly vulnerable refugees and recommends them for resettlement in safe countries around the world. Traditionally, the US has accepted greater numbers of refugees for resettlement than any other state. However, Trump has consistently reduced the numbers being accepted by the US, and recently set the cap at 15,000 for 2021, the lowest ever since the US refugee resettlement programme was established in 1980. These developments have been strongly and consistently criticised. They have disadvantaged not just some of the most vulnerable amongst the world's 26 million refugees, but have also devastated the refugee resettlement infrastructure in the US.

Biden's pledge to immediately increase the refugee resettlement ceiling to 125,000 and "to raise it over time commensurate with our responsibility, our values, and the unprecedented global need" will be welcomed by many. The reduced capacity of the non-profit groups that do the practical work of refugee resettlement, however, may make it difficult to reach the target of 125,000 in the short term.

A nation of immigrants

The operation of the US immigration system is of practical consequence for more people than any other country's immigration rules. With over 50 million foreign-born residents, the US is home to more international migrants than any other country in the world, hosting more than the combined total of migrants living in the Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UK.

Much of the Biden-Harris immigration reform manifesto will remain aspirational rather than actionable in the short-to-medium term

Many of those 50 million-plus migrants will have US citizen partners and children. A great number of people will therefore be encouraged by the Biden-Harris promise to modernise the country's unwieldy immigration system and to undo some of the more restrictive measures adopted by the Trump administration. However, factors such as continued Republican control of the Senate, and the energies and resources required to respond to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, may mean that much of the Biden-Harris immigration reform manifesto will remain aspirational rather than actionable in the short-to-medium term.

Dr Alan Desmond is a lecturer in law at the University of Leicester. He is the author of the recent policy brief Reconsidering Regularisation of Irregular Migrants in the EU in the light of the COVID-19He is a former Irish Research Council awardee.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ