In the first few weeks of his administration, President Biden prioritized action on immigration issues by sending a legislative proposal to Congress to reform the nation’s immigration system and issuing a number of executive actions addressing immigration policy. These actions mark a significantly different trajectory from the former administration.
This briefing background information on Biden’s recent immigration actions, an outline of his immigration legislation proposal, and an overview of his executive orders and relevant legislation, including:
S.874 - Dream Act of 2019 (116th)
H.R.6 - American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (116th)
H.R.85 - Fund and Complete the Border Wall Act (116th)
H.R.32 - Buy a Brick, Build the Wall Act of 2019 (116th)
S.1591 - End Mass Deportation Act (116th)
H.R.2203 - Homeland Security Improvement Act (116th)
H.R.2214 - NO BAN Act (116th)
H.R.2783 - TPS and DED Protection Act of 2019 (116th)
S.3681 - Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act of 2020 (116th)
S.292 - Keep Families Together Act (116th)
H.R.2662 - Asylum Seeker Protection Act (116th)
S.1103 - Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (116th)
H.R.3376 - Lady Liberty Act of 2019 (116th)
This briefing includes:
13 bill references
63 additional links
On Jan. 20, 2021, the first day of his administration, President Biden issued five executive actions on immigration and introduced a legislative proposal that would overhaul the U.S. immigration system. The legislative proposal has yet to be introduced but will focus on increasing avenues towards immigration and citizenship, modernizing border controls, and targeting the root of migration to the U.S. Biden also issued another proclamation on travel restrictions on Jan. 25th and additional immigration actions are expected on Jan. 29.
The executive actions (summarized below) included:
Preserving the Obama-era DACA program, which offers temporary work authorization and protection for deportation for certain people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children;
Reversing President Trump’s travel bans on thirteen countries;
Extending Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians;
Halting construction projects on the border wall;
Deprioritizing arrests of individuals who are illegally present in the U.S; and
Reinstituting restrictions on travel from countries with new strains of COVID.
Creating a task force to reunify families separated by the zero-tolerance policy.
Developing a strategy to address the root causes of migration from Central America.
Directing federal agencies to review Trump administration rules on legal immigration.
Expanding the refugee admissions cap for fiscal year 2022.
For more information on Biden’s immigration actions, check out the Prolegis briefings on DACA and the Trump administration’s immigration policies and the following links:
Immigration Legislative Proposal
On his first day in office, President Biden sent an immigration legislative proposal, named the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress, which Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will introduce. According to the Biden administration, the bill would modernize the immigration system, prioritize keeping families together, and address the root causes and challenges of the surge in migration from Central America. Notably, the proposal does not include increased enforcement features typical of previous attempts at “comprehensive immigration reform.
According to a fact sheet circulated by the White House, the three themes of Biden’s proposal are to:
Provide pathways to citizenship & strengthen labor protections
Prioritize smart border controls
Address root causes of migration
Biden’s proposals to expand citizenship and labor protections include:
Offering an eight-year path to citizenship for people who were living in the U.S. unlawfully on Jan. 1, 2021;
Allowing DACA recipients, farmworkers, and people with Temporary Protected Status to immediately apply for a green card if they meet certain requirements and have a three-year path to citizenship;
Incorporates language from the NO BAN Act (summarized below) to prohibit discrimination based on religion and increases the Diversity Visa program from 55,000 to 80,000;
Raising annual per-country limits on family-based immigration and eliminating limits for employment visas;
Exempting spouses and children of green card holders from employment-based imigration quotas; and
Providing work permits to dependents of H1-B visa holders.
The bill would also invest in border controls, such as:
Funding DHS to deploy technology to expedite screening for contraband;
Increasing the number of immigration judges;
Investing in training and education programs for border agent and officer safety and professionalism; and
Expanding funds for investigations into and prosecutions of individuals involved in smuggling and trafficking.
Finally, the bill aims to address the causes of migration to the U.S. and asylum-needs by:
Allocating $4 billion to address migration from Central America, including increasing assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and establishing processing centers in Central America for refugee resettlement;
Eliminating the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims and providing funding for reducing asylum application backlogs.
For more information and analysis of President Biden’s immigration proposal, check out these links:
On January 20th, President Biden issued a number of executive actions on immigration. Biden also issued COVID-related travel restrictions on Jan. 25th.
Biden issued the Executive memorandum titled "Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)." The order preserves the Obama administration DACA program, which, with certain conditions, offered temporary work authorization and deferred the removal of immigrants who arrived in the U.S. unlawfully as children. There was significant uncertainty around DACA under President Trump, as the administration attempted to terminate the program in 2017, but the Supreme Court later held that the termination was procedurally defective under the Administrative Procedures Act, effectively reinstalling the program. Biden’s executive order reaffirms the policy (though it may still face legal challenges).
According to Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Dream Act of 2019 would have “allow[ed] immigrant students who were brought here as children and grew up in the United States to earn lawful permanent residence and eventually American citizenship.”
According to Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the American Dream and Promise Act would have “include[d] protections and a path to citizenship not just for Dreamers, but also for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) beneficiaries.”
Biden issued an Executive proclamation terminating the emergency with respect to the southern border, redirecting funds for the border wall, and pausing work on construction of the border wall. This marks a change in policy from the Trump administration, which had issued an order to build a wall along the southern border in 2017. Congress had blocked funding for the construction and a report on the project found that only 15 miles of new barricades had been built. This order would effectively terminate these projects.
Border Wall Legislation
According to Rep. Andy Briggs (R-AZ), the Fund and Complete the Border Wall Act would have “fully fund[ed], complete[ed], and pa[id] for the border wall.” The bill would have also penalized foreign aid to Mexico and other countries by $2,000 for every unauthorized immigrant apprehended and restored overtime pay for Border Patrol.
Biden issued the Executive order titled the Revision of Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities. This order revokes President Trump’s 2017 executive order which directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to prioritize arrests of immigrants who were in the U.S. illegally. The order also calls for a review of the actions put in place under the 2017 order and revised guidance.
Immigration Enforcement-related Legislation
According to Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), the End Mass Deportation Act would have “rescind[ed] President Trump’s January 2017 Executive Order on Interior Enforcement, which prioritized the deportation of a majority undocument immigrants.”
According to Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX), the Homeland Security Improvement Act would have ensured “accountability and oversight within the Department of Homeland Security.” The bill would have also established a new position within DHS for an Ombudsman for Border and Immigration Enforcement Related Concerns.
Addressing Travel Bans
Biden issued the Executive proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States, which revoked travel bans from certain countries under the Trump administration. Starting in 2017, President Trump issued executive orders banning travel from Muslim-majority countries due to “heightened concerns about terrorism and travel to the United States.” Eventually, a total of 13 countries were on the list. Biden’s Executive order revokes these bans and also directs the Secretary of State to clear the backlog of cases related to the bans.
Travel Ban Legislation
According to Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the NO BAN Act would have “repeal[ed] the three versions of President Trump’s Muslim ban, strengthen[ed] the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and restore[ed] the separation of powers by limiting overly broad executive authority to issue future travel bans.”
A companion bill was introduced by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), S.1123.
Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians
The final immigration-related action taken by President Biden on Jan. 20 was to Reinstate Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians. The order extends Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), which allows certain individuals from designated countries facing conflict or natural disaster to temporarily remain in the U.S, for Liberians until Jun. 30, 2022. President Trump had previously extended DED until Jan. 10, 2021 through the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
Temporary Protected Status Legislation
Introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the TPS and DED Protection Act of 2019 would have provided certain protections for immigrants granted temporary protected status or deferred enforced departure.
COVID-19 Travel Restrictions
Biden also issued several COVID-related executive actions in his first week. One of the proclamations suspends entry of immigrants and non-immigrants from South Africa, Brazil, the U.K., and Ireland. The executive order is in response to the transmission of the new strains of COVID that have been found to be more contagious. Each of the countries addressed in the proclamation has had cases of these new strains. This order reinstates restrictions that President Trump had instituted but then lifted two days before his term ended.
COVID Travel Legislation
According to Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), the Pandemic Effects on Home Safety and Tourism Act would have established a joint task force to develop requirements, plans, and guidelines to ensure safe and healthy air travel during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
On Feb. 2, Biden issued an executive order on "The Establishment of Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families." The order establishes a task force chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security that is responsible for identifying all children who were separated from their families in connection with the zero-tolerance policy. The zero-tolerance policy was announced in April 2018 and required the DOJ prosecute 100% of adult aliens who were apprehended for crossing the border illegally. A consequence of this policy was family separations and there remain an uncertain number of children who have not been reunited with their families. Biden’s order aims to identify and reunite all separated children.
Family Separation Legislation
According to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the Keep Families Together Act would have “allow[ed] immigrant children to be separated from their parents only in the event they are being trafficked or abused by their parents.” The bill also would have restricted the prosecution of parents who are asylum seekers by creating an affirmative defense for asylum seekers, requires CBP officers to complete child welfare training annually, and establishes a preference for family unity.
A companion bill was introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), H.R.541.
Causes of Migration
On Feb. 2, Biden issued an executive order to create a regional framework for North and Central America to address the causes of migration (especially from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) and provide safe and orderly processing of asylum seekers at the U.S. border. First, the order directs the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs to prepare a strategy for addressing the root causes of migration and a strategy for regional cooperation on managing migration. The strategies must also identify recommendations for how to improve asylum systems and resettlement capacities. Also, the Secretary of Homeland Security is directed to develop policies and procedures for safe and orderly processing of asylum claims.
Finally, the order revokes some of the Trump administration actions, such as the presidential memorandum ending “catch and release” at the border.
Causes of Migration Legislation
According to Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX), the Asylum Seeker Protection Act would have “defunded the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy, known as ‘Remain in Mexico.’”
The final of Biden’s immigration-related actions on Feb. 2 was an executive order on strengthening the legal immigration system. Highlights of this order include directing federal agencies to review existing regulations and orders that are deemed to impede access to the legal immigration system, such as the Trump administration’s interpretation of the “public charge” rule. The order also directs federal agencies to develop policies to improve the naturalization process.
Legal Immigration Legislation
According to Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), the RAISE Act would have established a skills-based points system for employment-visas, eliminated the Diversity Visa Lottery, and limited refugees to 50,000 a year. Supported by President Trump, the act would have replaced the current demand-driven model with a new points-based system. This act sought to reduce family-based immigration and increase the percentage of more-educated immigrants coming to the U.S.
A companion bill was introduced by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), H.R.2278.
Biden issued an executive order on "Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration" on February 4. The order increases the number of refugee admissions to 125,000 for fiscal year 2022. This is a significant increase from President Trump’s 15,000 in fiscal year 2021, a record low for the U.S.
Refugee Admission Legislation
According to Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), the Lady Liberty Act of 2019, which would have reversed the Trump administration’s actions to limit refugee resettlement in the U.S. The act would have required the President to set a goal of admitting no less than 110,000 refugees annually.