Biden strengthens protections for Dreamers, stops border wall construction, enacts deportation moratorium

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson

A prayer service at the border fence in Tijuana. Many of the participants took communion then attempted to cross the border. March 5, 2017, US/Mexico border, Tijuana, Mexico. Photo by Ted Soqui for KCRW.

On President Joe Biden’s first day in office, he sent a comprehensive immigration bill to Congress that would put the U.S.’ estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship.

He directed the Department of Homeland to strengthen protections for Dreamers — recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. They’ll be able to stay in the U.S. for the foreseeable future, says Laura Barrón-López, White House correspondent for Politico. 

His administration was already discussing immigration with Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate ahead of inauguration. 

“The big question is, given the slim majority in the House and given the 50-50 Senate, whether or not there is enough ability or political will to get it across the aisle,” says Barrón-López.

“But the bill that he sent them would give Dreamers an expedited route [to citizenship] … TPS [Temporary Protected Status] recipients and farm workers … the people that meet those three criteria would be able to immediately get a green card. And then they would only wait another three years before applying for naturalization.”

For everyone else, naturalization would also be faster too. “The binary administration is proposing an eight-year wait time for everyone else that didn't qualify in those three other categories I mentioned. So essential workers that aren't farm workers, all other undocumented that make up the 11 million that are here, they would, after a five-year temporary status, be able to apply for a green card. And then they'd have to wait another three years before they can apply for citizenship,” says Barrón-López.

However, the most immediate reactions aren’t the best from Republicans, she adds. “They think that it should just be a clean Dreamer bill, one that just focuses on Dreamers. And that's not something Democrats want at all. A lot of Democrats want to see big reform finally pushed through Congress.”

Meanwhile, there’s now a 100-day moratorium on deportations. Barrón-López says it’s temporary so the administration can get a handle on what happened to the immigration system, including the separation of children and the backlog of processing immigrants seeking asylum.

As for asylum seekers, the administration is telling them to stay where they are, explains Barrón-López. “They're putting a restriction on travel because of the pandemic. … That's kind of where things are at right now. But more and more is emerging, as the administration is taking over and figuring out the state of the immigration system.”

As for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order halting its construction. Barrón-López doesn’t know if Biden will dismantle it. 

“The administration is probably going to leave what reinforced fencing was applied. Whether or not they continue on … the indication is that they may not because of the fact that they're stopping all that construction. And they don't want the money to be going to that anymore.”

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