President Joe Biden kept his promise to address our nation’s immigration problems immediately upon taking office. Among the 17 executive orders he signed in his first day in office were one that stopped all work on the border wall and another that erased policies that separated families awaiting immigration hearings and gives Dreamers new legal status and a path to eventual citizenship.
Those actions are welcome and we applaud our new president for taking them. However, other immigration issues remain and their need to be address is equally immediate. We hope those will be addressed soon.
Biden isn’t the first to make such promises, but he is the first to keep them. Barack Obama, for example, campaigned in 2008 on a promise to make immigration reform one of his top priorities. He didn’t address the issue until his second term, however, even though some of his actions, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children. This could partly explain Hispanic turnout four years later. Although Obama enjoyed 71% of the Latino vote, that vote comprised just 10% of all ballots, even though Latinos make up nearly 20% of our nation’s population.
Wednesday’s executive orders reverse Donald Trump’s imposition of harsher criminal charges against illegal residents and detention of refugees. This will reduce the number of people who are detained, which also will reduce the separation of children from their parents and complies with federal court orders demanding that the practice be stopped. Those orders also charged the federal government with increasing its efforts to reunite those families. The government reported in December that it was still holding 628 children and had no idea where their families might be.
The fate of thousands of people who came to our borders seeking asylum in the past several years also needs to be addressed. The previous administration rejected many of those requests and placed some migrants in detention while refusing entry to thousands more, ordering that they stay in Mexico while they waited for their detention hearings. Our country has no authority to order Mexico to hold anyone for us, but Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador magnanimously accepted the migrants.
These migrants remain a U.S. issue, however, and they have languished long enough. We must resolve their cases as quickly as possible and either begin the immigration process and send them home; every day they remain in detention or camps they continue to run the risk of catching, and spreading, COVID-19.
Perhaps most importantly, Biden should assign our immigration bureaucracy the task of reviewing and streamlining their procedures in order to reduce the time people must wait for their applications to be processed. If people had confidence in our legal immigration system, surely fewer would seek to bypass it.
Biden has been in office only a few days and he has a lot on his plate. We hope that full schedule doesn’t push other vital immigration issues back and leave them unaddressed. After all, every case is a person, or family, that has the same needs and basic rights that we all enjoy.