Biden committed to limiting deportations and overturning Trump border policies, advisers say

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President-elect Joe Biden is planning to follow through on campaign pledges to implement a 100-day freeze on deportations, limit immigration arrests and overturn some of the Trump administration’s controversial border restrictions for asylum-seekers, transition officials said Tuesday.

The seismic changes in immigration policy — especially for asylum programs along the U.S.-Mexico border — will take time and will not be carried out immediately, given the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the advisers cautioned.

During a call with reporters Tuesday, Biden transition officials, who requested anonymity to speak freely, confirmed that the incoming administration plans to gradually end the “Remain in Mexico” and safe-third-country asylum programs, which collectively allow U.S. border officials to bounce migrants off American soil and either have them wait in Mexico for their court hearings or instruct them to request refuge in Central American countries.

“This is an area of policy-making where there has been grave damage done by the current administration. They have created chaos. They’ve even weaponized the immigration system to separate children from their families,” one of the transition advisers said.

“Rebuilding these processes is going to be a significant task. It is a priority for the incoming administration — and they will begin on Day One,” the person added. 

The officials confirmed a CBS News report from November that outlined Mr. Biden’s plans to undo many of Mr. Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, which have also included broad restrictions on green cards and pandemic-era limits on legal immigration. 

Most of Mr. Trump’s legacy on immigration was built through presidential decrees, policy memos, regulations and other executive actions, rendering it vulnerable to Mr. Biden’s starkly different vision on the issue. 

While Mr. Trump’s policies are gradually terminated, the transition officials said the incoming Biden administration will start processing asylum claims at border ports of entry, focusing on reviewing the cases of the “most vulnerable.” The officials said nongovernmental organizations will be involved in this effort.

Mr. Biden’s advisers did not address the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order the Trump administration has been using during the pandemic to expel border-crossers, including asylum-seekers, with little to no due process. Before Election Day, Mr. Biden’s campaign told CBS News he would direct the CDC to review the policy, which has been challenged in court, to ensure migrants can have their asylum requests reviewed.

More broadly, the officials said they will task asylum officers, rather than immigration judges, to review asylum petitions, in order to reduce the historic immigration court case backlog. Mr. Trump’s asylum restrictions for victims of gang and domestic violence will be rescinded, the advisers said. 

The overall objective, according to the officials, is to create a more “efficient” and “humane” asylum system.

During a separate interview with the Spanish news wire agency EFE published Monday, Mr. Biden’s incoming domestic policy and national security advisors, Susan Rice and Jake Sullivan, said that overturning Mr. Trump’s network of asylum restrictions will take “months.” 

Sullivan and Rice urged would-be migrants in Central America to avoid the perilous trek north, and maintained that Mr. Biden will dispatch aid to the region to alleviate some of the root causes of migration, which include violence and poverty.

“Migrants and asylum-seekers absolutely should not believe those in the region peddling the idea that the border will suddenly be fully open to process everyone on Day 1. It will not,” Rice told EFE.

A transition official on Tuesday said the implementation details for the deportation moratorium are still being worked out. Asked by CBS News about new guidelines for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, the adviser said the Biden administration will have a “sensible approach” to immigration arrests, noting that further details are being discussed. 

During President Barack Obama’s tenure, ICE issued guidance instructing agents to focus on arresting and deporting immigrants with criminal convictions, recent border-crossers and those who entered the country illegally more than once, but those limits were scrapped by Mr. Trump soon after he took office.

The Biden officials added that they will explore alternatives to holding people in civil immigration detention, including by reviving and expanding case management programs designed to ensure immigrants attend their court hearings.

Mr. Trump’s “travel ban” restrictions on 13 countries, most of them African or majority Muslim, will also be revoked, according to the transition officials. The incoming administration also intends to set up a task force to locate migrant families who were separated by U.S. border officials in 2017 and 2018 and who have yet to be reached.

Mr. Biden has vowed to protect young undocumented adults known as “Dreamers” enrolled in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from deportation. He’s also promised to work with Congress to place them and other undocumented immigrants in the U.S. on a pathway to U.S. citizenship — a pledge that could prove difficult to fulfill if Congress remains divided.



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