By Laura Vazquez, Associate Director, Immigrant Integration, UnidosUS
After four difficult years of the Trump administration that made more than 400 executive changes to immigration policy, there were tremendous expectations for change from the Biden administration. The Biden campaign stated it would push for policies that would modernize our immigration system and welcome immigrants. Now that we are a year into the Biden administration, where do things stand on immigrant integration policy? This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some of the things that UnidosUS has advocated for to advance immigrant inclusion and where they stand at the beginning of President Biden’s second year in office.
In a memo to Biden’s transition team, UnidosUS advocated for the creation of a White House Office on New Americans to address gaps and coordinate supports for immigrant integration, and while the Biden administration’s Executive Order on “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans” called for the Domestic Policy Council to convene a Task Force on New Americans, there is no indication that this has happened. The Biden administration can learn from states that are enacting inclusive policies and expand nationally.
UnidosUS lauded the nomination of Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to head the Department of Homeland Security and Ur Jaddou to lead USCIS, the first Latina to do so and the first Senate-confirmed nominee in two years. We commend the administration for establishing an interagency taskforce on naturalization and for quickly rescinding the Trump administration’s revised civics test for naturalization which was problematic and lacked input from stakeholders. Unfortunately, the backlogs in processing applications for U.S citizenship and other applications remain a critical concern. While it was a positive step for the Biden administration to abandon the Trump administration’s fee schedule that would have raised the fee for applying for U.S. citizenship and eliminated fee waivers, we will be advocating for the agency to keep naturalization fees affordable as it considers its upcoming fee schedule.
We commend the Biden administration for designating TPS for immigrants from Venezuela and Haiti. In 2021, 204,132 applications for TPS for immigrants from Venezuela were received of the estimated 323,000 people eligible and so far, 75,288 applications for immigrants from Haiti of the 115,300 were received. UnidosUS will continue to advocate for the bold and broad use of TPS and monitor the implementation to ensure it is successful.
An important source of high-quality, low-cost immigration legal assistance is the network of organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice to offer immigration application assistance by accredited representatives trained in immigration policy. The process for organizations to apply for recognition and for their staff to attain recognition is vitally important to providing qualified immigration assistance to low-income immigrants and their families. This would also be critical in the event of any program or set of executive actions that provide immigration relief. Unfortunately, as our colleagues at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) have written, the program is “currently severely underfunded and under-resourced, bringing the credentialing of new legal representatives to a virtual standstill.” As a result of adverse changes that were begun under the Trump administration but have yet to be addressed by the Biden administration, applications that used to take about three months to adjudicate are now taking more than a year.
The Biden administration correctly rescinded the draconian public charge rule rolled out during the Trump administration that had a chilling effect on immigrant communities accessing vital services. The Trump administration rule created a wealth test to block low-income immigrants from obtaining green cards.
It goes without saying that the Biden administration was facing many challenges following the Trump administration. However, we have passed one year since the inauguration and the Biden administration has not yet made many of the transformative changes needed on immigrant inclusion. There have been important steps taken, but more needs to be done and advocates have shared recommendations with the administration and with the people with incredible expertise who were brought into the administration to make necessary changes. We urge the administration to act on the recommendations it has received and to be much bolder. Specifically, we reiterate our recommendations that the administration promptly establish a White House Office on New Americans, that it addresses application backlogs, and that it fixes the Recognition and Accreditation program. The policy solutions are known, there are experienced people in place, and the expectations for change and delivering on campaign promises are high.