On the campaign trail, Joe Biden promised change to “heal the soul of the nation.” It was one of one of the candidate’s most often repeated phrases. But when it comes to immigration policy in the next administration, quick change is unlikely.
Sarah Pierce is a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, left leaning think tank based in Washington DC.
“The problem is volume and bandwidth,” she said. “The Trump administration had immigration policy as its top priority, and they poured everything they had into enacting that agenda as quickly as possible. And that’s how they were able to enact more than four hundred changes to immigration policy.”
Immigration is not listed among the Biden transition team’s top five policy priorities. Pierce said that the pandemic and economic recovery are taking top spots – there’s a lot going on.
As she sees it “immigration is just not a top issue are politically beneficial issue for Democrats. So there’s no way they’re going to be able to reverse everything that Trump did in four years or even if in eight years, if they’re given the opportunity.”
And familiar players from the Obama era have been tapped to lead Biden’s transition team, to the ire of critics and immigration activists.
“It’s no secret that Biden is a centrist Democrat, but he’s definitely being pulled left on some issues,” Pierce said. “When you look at his promises for the first 100 days, some of them include issues that are definitely from left-leaning Democrats, including a moratorium on deportations for 100 days because the southern border and asylum were so visible during the Trump administration”
Pierce said resources and procedures at the southern border are currently set up to focus on enforcement first. The system is not equipped to handle the influx of refugees in a way that focuses on humanitarian concerns.
“What I’m hoping is that the new administration, when they get to office, work really quickly to establish the proper resources and procedures at the southern border to handle humanitarian flows in order to prepare for new surges,” Pierce said.
Pierce said that during the early part of the Obama administration there was a lot of disappointment among immigration advocates, but it’s important to look at Obama’s overall timeline.
“If you look at the final two years in particular, President Obama put into place priorities that focused enforcement on serious criminals and early arrivals,” she said. “So I am hoping that even though we’ve seen Biden leaning into administrators that were present during the Obama administration, we’re going to see a return to kind of the final Obama years where it’s very focused [on] enforcement and focused on making sure that unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for a very long time aren’t living in fear and are able to live their full lives.”