Biden warily unwinds Trump border policies

Ted Hesson and Steve Holland
·3-min read

US President Joe Biden has ordered a review of asylum processing at the US-Mexico border and the immigration system as he seeks to undo some of Donald Trump's hardline policies.

Biden also created a task force to reunite migrant families separated at the border by Trump's 2018 'zero tolerance' strategy.

"We are going to work to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration that literally, not figuratively, ripped children from the arms of their families," Biden said, signing the orders at the White House.

Immigration advocates have urged the new Democratic administration to move quickly but Biden aides say they need time to unravel the many layers of immigration restrictions introduced during the Trump era and to put in place more migrant-friendly systems.

"It's not going to happen overnight," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier on Tuesday.

The cautious strategy reflects the tightrope Biden is walking to reverse hard-line Trump policies while simultaneously trying to prevent a surge in illegal immigration.

Biden opponents could also derail or slow down his agenda with lawsuits if his administration moves too quickly and fails to follow proper procedures.

In a sign of the wary approach, Biden's executive orders on Tuesday did not address repealing an order known as Title 42, issued under Trump to stop the spread of the coronavirus and allows US authorities to expel almost all people caught crossing the border illegally.

He did, however, mandate a review of the Migrant Protection Protocols, a Trump program that ordered 65,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for US court hearings.

The Biden administration has already stopped adding people to the program but has not yet outlined how it will process the claims of those already enrolled.

"I can't tell you exactly how long it will take to put in an alternative to that policy," a senior administration official told reporters on Monday in response to a question about processing MPP enrollees.

Chad Wolf, former acting US Department of Homeland Security secretary under Trump, said halting the MPP program was a mistake because it had been an effective deterrent to illegal immigration.

Michelle Brane, a senior director with the New York-based Women's Refugee Commission, said Biden's latest orders do not appear likely to bring the sort of quick change sought by immigrant advocates.

Biden's efforts face logistical challenges and opposition from Republicans, according to immigration policy experts, former officials, and activists on both sides of the issue.

Lawsuits by conservative groups could potentially slow down Biden's agenda.

A federal judge last week temporarily blocked one of his first immigration moves - a 100-day pause on many deportations - after the Republican-led state of Texas sought an injunction.

Trump won the presidency in 2016 while making border security a major theme of his campaign.

If Biden fails to prevent surges in illegal immigration at the US-Mexico border, he could give ammunition to Republicans in the 2022 congressional elections, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

"This is the thing that rallied Donald Trump supporters," she said.