WASHINGTON – After 394 days, President Biden earned praise for lowering interior deportation cases but criticism for failing to improve the humanitarian crisis on the southern border and reverse Trump-era policies, immigration experts and government officials said in a Migration Policy Institute virtual event on Wednesday.
“Outside of the border and asylum, the administration has indeed made progress on many fronts,” said Lorella Praeli, co-president of Community Change. “And there’s also so much work left to be done.”
Biden has signed almost 300 executive actions on immigration, more than triple the amount from Donald Trump’s first year in office, according to Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at MPI and co-author of MPI’s latest article published in the online journal, Migration Information Source.
Chishti and co-author Jessica Bolter also noted how in Biden’s first 11 months, the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests of noncitizens dropped to half that of Trump’s last 11 months in the White House.
“For the first time ever we have guidance to the field that says that the mere fact that an individual is removable should not alone be the basis for an enforcement action,” said Esther Olavarria, deputy director for immigration at the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.
ICE under Biden has adopted a new interior enforcement strategy under which the agency has been directed to only detain noncitizens who pose a threat to national security or those who have committed a high crime or who recently entered the country illegally.
The recent designations of Myanmar and Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) eligibility as well as the new four-year deferred action period for U Visa applicants were applauded as successes by Chishti, with his analysis estimating that these new humanitarian policies are providing protection for over one million non-citizens.
Praeli of Community Change urged the president to create additional designations and extensions of TPS for countries including Guatemala, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Sudan.
“Congress gave the TPS authority to the executive branch and we’re calling on the administration to use it. No excuses,” Praeli said.
Praeli also called on the Biden administration to complete unfulfilled campaign promises, including asylum designation at the border. The president has been criticized by politicians and immigrant activists alike for his handling of the increased rate of illegal border crossings, the failure to end the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program and the rising cases of people attempting to cross again after being expelled.
These problems are worsened by a state of “constant crisis” in the Department of Homeland Security, according to Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention in the DHS.
Neumann compared the department to a sinking ship that has capsized, with a limited number of staff trying to right its course.
“It is hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t worked there how broken DHS is on a normal day,” Neumann said.
The Biden administration is working to produce their own report on their immigration policies and priorities, Olavarria said.
“There is a lot of work that we have done that I am very proud of, and there is a lot of work that is still underway that will be significant and will help many people,” she said.