Analysis: There is a consensus that Biden's first 100 days have been largely successful but when it comes to immigration, however, the picture is mixed.

By Dr Alan Desmond, University of Leicester

During his four years as president, Donald Trump made the US a more hostile environment for immigrants than ever before by consistently employing anti-immigrant rhetoric and issuing hundreds of executive orders that increased restrictions and reduced benefits for non-citizens.

As part of his election manifesto, Joe Biden provided a detailed outline of his plan to reform and modernise the sprawling, broken US immigration system, which included reversing many of the policies adopted during the Trump presidency.

As he completes his milestone first 100 days in office, Biden’s performance so far is being assessed at home and abroad. Notably, he has drawn praise for comfortably fulfilling his promise of 100 million vaccinations and for signing into law a historic $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

There is a consensus that Biden's first 100 days have been largely successful. When it comes to immigration, however, the picture is mixed.

Some clear failures, but not all Biden’s fault

There are some areas where Biden has clearly failed to deliver on the commitments he made during his election campaign. His promise to increase the number of refugees resettled annually by the US to 125,000, from the all-time low of 15,000 set by Trump last year, remains unfulfilled.

Biden initially appeared to make good on his election promise to call a temporary halt to most deportations of undocumented immigrants by immediately ordering a 100 day pause on expulsions to allow a review and more efficient use of limited federal resources.

That policy, however, was quickly set aside by the courts following a legal challenge from Texas, resulting in the continuation of deportations. This will have disappointed many, citizen and non-citizen alike. Some undocumented immigrants have lived for decades in the US and have spouses and children who are US citizens.

Quick wins – travel bans and rhetorical changes

Just as one of Trump’s first actions as president was to ban immigration from a number of Muslim-majority countries "in order to protect Americans", Biden used his first day in office to terminate these bans.

This significant about-turn in policy was accompanied by an equally stark change in language. While Trump’s travel bans invoked the memory of 9/11 to highlight the terrorist and criminal threat posed by individuals from predominantly Muslim and African countries, the Proclamation issued by Biden struck a markedly different tone.

Characterising the Trump travel bans as "a stain on our national conscience", Biden recalled his country’s "long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all". These immediate changes in policy and rhetoric are consistent with Biden’s campaign pledge to make the US more open and welcoming to immigrants.

Making progress? Legal status for the undocumented

Biden’s pre-election statement that his number one priority as president would be to create a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated 10.5 million undocumented immigrants saw him send the US Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress on his first day in office.

If enacted, it would represent the most sweeping change to US immigration law since the reforms brought in by Ronald Regan in 1986.

The Bill would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship, subject to requirements such as criminal checks and payment of taxes, after a maximum of eight years, with certain categories of undocumented such as the Dreamers being allowed to apply for citizenship more quickly.

It is unlikely, however, that the comprehensive and ambitious US Citizenship Act will secure sufficient support in Congress for it to become law. A more piecemeal approach stands a greater chance of success, with specific elements of the Citizenship Act being hived off and packaged as standalone legislation to secure a right to remain for specific segments of the undocumented population.

Indeed, Biden has already introduced important policy change to shield from deportation undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children. This protection, known as DACA, was first introduced in 2012 by Obama and benefited up to 800,000 individuals but it is vulnerable to an ongoing legal challenge.

This highlights the precarious situation endured even by undocumented immigrants who currently enjoy formal protection against deportation, and underscores the urgency for Congressional action on legal status for the undocumented.

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From Radio 1's Drivetime, John Nichols, National Affairs Correspondent of the Nation, talks to Sarah about Joe Biden's first two month's in office.

Biden’s first 100 days on immigration: A lot done. A lot more to do.

Biden has achieved a lot on the immigration front in his first 100 days in office, reversing many of policies adopted during the Trump administration.

An under-appreciated achievement is the change in the tone of official discourse around immigration and potent symbolic steps such as the appointment of the first immigrant and first Latino to lead the Department of Homeland Security, the federal executive unit responsible for immigration.

While Biden is guilty of some blatant failures to fulfil election manifesto promises, some of those failures are due directly to the actions of ideological opponents such as the court-ordered abandonment of Biden’s policy to pause certain deportations for 100 days, and the lack of action in Congress on the US Citizenship Act.

Looking beyond the first 100 days marker, continued efforts are required to secure a stable legal status for the millions of undocumented immigrants who have made their home in the US and contribute to the country’s economy.

One immediate challenge looms particularly large. The most recent "crisis" at the US-Mexico border has seen greater numbers of migrants intercepted at the border than at any other time since 2001. Some have attributed this to the change of administration, blaming the surge on Biden's promises of immigration reform.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that the Biden administration was woefully unprepared with a lack of shelter capacity resulting in children being held in cramped and overcrowded conditions in camps comparable to jails.

If Biden is to deliver on his pledge to reform the US immigration system and to draw a line under the "Trump-created humanitarian crisis at our border", changes in policy and rhetoric must be matched by improvements in preparedness and capacity at the border to ensure that immigrants are treated humanely and with dignity.

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 COVID-19. He 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