RAICES Pushing Hard on Biden for Real Migrant Justice
Not nearly enough
During his campaign for president, Joe Biden promised a major overhaul of the U.S. immigration system, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Now, as we're past the half-way mark on Biden's first 100 days in office, immigration advocates are pushing for those promises to be kept and no one excluded. So far, their feelings are mixed, with the passage of two important immigration bills in the House, but with continued deportations and detentions of those crossing the border, which have sparked protests.
One of Biden's first actions in office was a 100-day moratorium on deportations, along with a barrage of executive orders aimed at rolling back Trump-era immigration policies. But, as RAICES Chief Advocacy Officer Erika Andiola stressed recently in a livestream with supporters of the Texas-based migrant advocacy group, "the Trump threat is not gone. His supporters are still in power." She was referring specifically to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose request for an injunction to block the moratorium was granted by a Trump-appointed federal judge in Corpus Christi.
This means deportations have continued, as has Biden's decision to continue Trump's Title 42 public health ban (based on a 1944 statute) citing COVID-19 as reason to expel recently arrived migrants at the southern border. Both Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott have blamed migrants for COVID spreading in Texas, though neither the CDC nor consensus among scientists provides support for the Title 42 ban. Meanwhile, the recent deportation of 33 Vietnamese refugees, which violated a 2008 agreement between the U.S and Vietnam, has sparked outcry among Asian American activists, heightened in the wake of the Atlanta murders of six immigrant Asian women and two others.
The Biden administration has also reopened temporary migrant facilities for children, which RAICES described as a "chilling continuity of the Trump administration's attitudes toward immigrants," given these facilities' documented histories of abuse. "We are still seeing families actually being separated," said RAICES Austin community organizer Adriana Quiroga. "Detention is one of the most harmful systems within our immigration system. It has been an issue before Trump, and as long as detention continues to be a tool used against immigrants, then a lot of these problems are going to be exacerbated." Quiroga pointed to last month's devastating Winter Storm Uri, which took a heavy toll on immigrant detention facilities in South Texas.
Despite these massive setbacks, RAICES still lauds, albeit tentatively, the passage of both the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and the Dream and Promise Act, piecemeal bills that represent ways for Congress to pass serious immigration reform, bit by bit. These bills, if enacted, would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and "Dreamers" – recipients of DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) protections granted under President Obama. These accomplishments are "a result of years of organizing and pressure from the immigrant rights movement," Andiola said in a statement, "but we won't celebrate anything until we see material differences in the lives of immigrants in the United States. We have lived through many broken promises on immigration."
RAICES Director of Litigation Manoj Govindaiah said that other Biden executive orders included wins to preserve temporary protected status for migrants from countries including Liberia, and a halt to enrollments in Trump's Migrant Protection Protocols, better known as the "Remain In Mexico" program. While these changes are still a little vague or incomplete, Govindaiah said, they indicate the hopefully progressive priorities of this new administration.
"We're not leaving this year without action on immigration beyond undoing Trump's harms in our community," Andiola told supporters. She urged advocates not to settle for a return to Obama-era policies where "they were constantly deporting people and they were constantly expanding detention and deportation so they could bring Republicans on board. We're not going to take more criminalization to the immigrant community." Instead, RAICES' Migrant Justice Platform calls for an end to immigrant detention, the dismantling of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and opening up various pathways to citizenship for millions of unauthorized migrants.