WASHINGTON - U.S. President Joe Biden signed executive orders Tuesday to start to dismantle former President Donald Trump’s restrictive immigration policies, including an attempt to reunite families that had been separated at the U.S.-Mexican border.
“I’m not making new law. I’m eliminating bad policy,” Biden said while signing the orders.
In the first hours of his presidency two weeks ago, Biden acted to halt construction of Trump’s $16 billion wall along the border and sent a far-reaching immigration bill to Congress, where lawmakers have long been stalemated between liberals looking to ease the path to U.S. citizenship and conservatives seeking to stem unauthorized immigration.
Biden’s immediate focus is on the 3,100-kilometer southern border with Mexico, where Trump tried to keep thousands of migrants from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala from entering the U.S.
Trump led repair and expansion of a border wall and imposed tough detention and deportation policies for those who made it across the desolate border terrain and into the United States.
One of the orders Biden is signing would establish a task force designed to reunite more than 600 migrant children with their parents after federal authorities had split them up at the border in 2017 and 2018. Officials say first lady Jill Biden is expected to play an active role in the effort.
At the ceremony signing the executive orders, Biden said he hoped to remove “the stain” of family separations. Biden did not take questions from reporters Tuesday.
“President Biden’s strategy is centered on the basic premise that our country is safe and stronger and more prosperous with a safe, orderly and humane immigration system that welcomes immigrants, keeps families together and allows people — both newly arrived immigrants and people who have lived here for generations — to more fully contribute to our country,” the senior official told reporters.
The official said that Trump “was so focused on the wall that he did nothing to address the root cause of why people are coming to our southern border. It was a limited, wasteful and naive strategy, and it failed.”
By contrast, backers of the previous administration’s border initiatives said Biden’s orders will lead to chaos and lawlessness.
“By resuming the pre-pandemic pace of visas, abandoning common-sense asylum policies, and increasing the burden on our strained social safety net, these orders will advance a dangerous open-borders policy, take away jobs from Americans struggling to find employment, and kneecap America's economic recovery from lockdowns," Jessica Anderson, director of the political advocacy arm of Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said in a statement.
Biden plans to offer new aid to Central American countries to combat corruption and reinstate a program for certain at-risk children to live in the U.S.
The president also is directing the U.S. Homeland Security agency to review a Trump policy that requires non-Mexican migrants to stay in Mexico until their immigration court date in the U.S. but not immediately dismantle the program.
The policy has left 60,000 asylum seekers waiting in dangerous border towns. Biden has already stopped new enrollments in the program but not disclosed how he intends to deal with those still waiting in Mexico.
The president also plans to restore a program from the last Democratic administration under President Barack Obama allowing children under the age of 18 to apply to legally reunite with their parents already living in the United States.
“The situation at the border will not transform overnight," the senior Biden official said. "This is in large part due to the damage done over the last four years, but we are committed to addressing it in full."
More than 70,000 migrants have been detained or arrested at the border in each of the past four months, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
Biden’s directives will also call for restoring the U.S. asylum system, which Trump had overhauled, making it exceedingly difficult for migrants to be granted asylum in the U.S.
However, Biden’s immigration changes could face various court challenges. In his first week in office, he already sustained one legal setback when a federal judge temporarily blocked his 100-day pause in deportations while the case proceeds.