Under Donald Trump, they feared deportation. Now, there are nearly 10 million who can hope to be regularized, or at least no longer live in hiding. With Joe Biden in the White House, the illegals, including the 800,000 “Dreamers” who arrived as minors in the United States, once again see a serene future and the prospect of obtaining American citizenship. But for the Democratic president, the main stake remains that of not creating an effect of breath of fresh air with a policy which would prove to be too generous or incentive. Because new caravans of migrants from Central America are heading for the United States, encouraged by the election of the Democrat.
Repairing a “moral shame”
For Joe Biden, the priority is clearly to remove all obstacles to so-called “legal” immigration imposed by his predecessor and his policy of criminalizing migrants. On Tuesday, he signed three presidential decrees which set the tone for the vast reform he intends to carry out, to once again make the United States a welcoming land. “I want to eliminate bad political decisions,” he said from the Oval Office. And obtain a “healthy, rational and humane migratory system”, for a “safer, stronger and more prosperous America”.
On the first day of his presidency, Joe Biden had already ordered the end of the construction of the wall on the border with Mexico, promulgated a 100-day moratorium on most deportations and lifted the ban on entry to American soil for nationals of predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen). Here he is who wants to promote the integration of migrants who have been present for years in the territory and especially to accelerate the reunification of separated families at the border, “to erase a moral and national shame” imposed by his predecessor.
More than two years after the measure decreed by Donald Trump, which had provoked a lively controversy by separating nearly 5,000 families, hundreds of children, lost in the American administrative twists and turns, have still not found their parents. A working group will look into this sensitive issue. This will include determining, once the families are reunited, where they will be accommodated. First Lady Jill Biden has indicated that she will participate in the task force. “The last administration literally tore children from the arms of their families (…) without any plan to reunite them afterwards”, denounced the president while signing the decree.
Another decree covers the countries of origin of migrants, focusing on financial aid. The goal is also to promote legal immigration programs to prevent people who meet the asylum criteria from taking reckless risks to arrive in the United States. The third decree, which lends a little confusion, wants to make it possible to “make naturalization more accessible to the nine million people eligible for American citizenship”. Joe Biden intends in particular to remove the criterion of economic requirements: under Trump, people who depended on social assistance had no chance of hoping for naturalization. With Biden, undocumented migrants without a criminal record and who pay their tax could now be allowed to work in the United States, then receive a “green card” after five years, the first step towards possible naturalization.
Obama, “chief spoiler”
Donald Trump wanted hermetic borders, taking the risk of endangering people fleeing persecution, Joe Biden reopens them. And grabs the file of the illegals. Those present in the United States, sometimes for decades, are above all Mexicans. But in recent years, more Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans have attempted to enter the United States illegally. Although most are fleeing very difficult situations in their countries of origin, including the violence of street gangs, Donald Trump had made the possibilities of legal migration almost impossible. For example, he imposed that asylum seekers remain on the Mexican side, often in very precarious conditions, pending a decision by the American authorities. Joe Biden going to end the practice? He announces for the moment that he will “revise” it.
Precisely: to what extent will these first decrees lead to immediate concrete effects? Behind the scenes, senior officials are cautious. The site is vast. For the moment, it is above all a question of identifying the problems and organizing reflection groups. Reuniting separated families, for example, could take months or even years, say the most pessimistic. The reform envisioned by Joe Biden will then have to go through Congress, which will be far from being a piece of cake for the Democratic administration. Joe Biden will face opposition from Republicans. The sensitive question of the regularization of illegal immigrants is a sea serpent. Several presidents have come up against it.
Joe Biden should also maintain a policy of firmness against migrants who target the United States without grounds deemed valid or who have not complied with the rules. As a reminder, Barack Obama, despite his policy favorable to illegal minors, was sometimes nicknamed the “chief deporter”. It has deported nearly 2.5 million illegals, many more than previous administrations.
Three Latino ministers
It is Alejandro Mayorkas, a son of Cuban refugees, who will be responsible for implementing this major reform. The Senate confirmed his appointment as Minister of Homeland Security on Tuesday. He’s not the only Latino in the Biden administration. The president also chose Xavier Becerra, whose mother is Mexican, as Minister of Health, and Miguel Cardona, with Puerto Rican roots, as head of the Ministry of Education.
With a bust of civil rights activist César Chávez in the Oval Office, Joe Biden is stepping up actions in favor of Hispanics. The latter represent 18% of the American population, the largest ethnic minority, ahead of African Americans (13%). Nearly 70% of the 20 million Hispanic voters also voted in favor of the Democrat.