On Tuesday, President Biden signed three executive orders aimed at reversing the “zero tolerance” immigration policies of the Trump administration. Biden said during the signing that “I’m not making new law. I’m eliminating bad policy.”
One of the orders establishes a task force that will work to reunite migrant families that were separated at the US-Mexico border during Trump’s tenure as president. The task force will be led by the newly confirmed secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
According to a report from CNN, the task force “will be charged with identifying all children separated from their parents or legal guardians on the southern border, facilitating and enabling the reunification of children with their families, and providing regular reports to the President, including one containing recommendations.”
Although the task force is a first step in undoing the harm done by the draconian policies, many immigration advocates say more urgent action is needed. 611 children in custody have parents or guardians who have not been located by lawyers, and around 5,500 children are currently in custody.
“The task force has a broad mandate and we are pleased to see the Biden administration’s commitment to reuniting families in the United States, protecting them from deportation, and care. However, all 5,500-plus separated families need immediate action — they cannot wait 120 days for a task force to make recommendations. These families deserve citizenship, care, and resources. We hope the task force acts with urgency, and look forward to working with it to reunite families and ensure that this never happens again,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gerlernt, lead lawyer in the family separation lawsuit.
The other orders signed include a review of border security, including a policy that forces asylum seekers to stay in Mexican cities while awaiting hearings in US immigration court. He ended a policy that held asylum seekers in custody with almost no access to lawyers while their claims were fast-tracked through the courts. According to the AP he also “ordered reviews of a nationwide expansion of fast-track deportation authority and of agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras for the U.S. to reject asylum applicants and instead send them to those Central American countries with an opportunity to seek protection there.”
The order on legal immigration will work to reduce backlogs and create a clearer pathway to citizenship. It also will potentially roll back the Trump era “public charge rule” which makes it difficult for those receiving government benefits to get a green card.
Immigration advocates say the orders are a starting point, but there is still more immediate action that needs to be taken. “The positive steps the administration is taking must be the beginning, not an end unto themselves,” said Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum. “Congress should build on these first steps to find permanent solutions to improve our immigration system.”