On his first day in office, President Joe Biden was expected to issue a series of immigration-related directives that will dismantle many policy changes implemented by the Trump administration.
Among those directives are a call to safeguard the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects from deportation children brought to the country illegally as children and to stop construction of a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Biden also released an outline of a sweeping immigration reform bill that would create an eight-year pathway to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants, expand the use of technology at the country’s borders, increase assistance offered to Central American countries to “address the underlying causes of migration in the region.”
These proposals are a sharp departure from immigration policy under President Donald Trump, and Republicans in Austin and Washington signaled resistance to them even as immigration reform advocates celebrated.
Pedro Villalobos, an assistant district attorney for the Travis County district attorney’s office and a recipient of some protections under DACA, said he regarded Biden's inauguration as “the start of a new administration that is very much concerned about how do we incorporate and include people who have been in this country and call it home, as opposed to the old administration, which was more inclined to create division and fracture communities across this country.”
The DACA program has had “tangible, tremendous benefits,” he said, allowing “people who used to be in the shadows to work openly, at the grocery store, as a doctor, or as a teacher.”
“Today we’re celebrating,” he continued. “But the fight’s not over. Republicans in Congress will do whatever they can to derail” Biden’s proposals, he said.
National immigrant advocacy groups applauded Biden for prioritizing immigration issues on his first day in office.
“During the past four years under Trump, we were able to not only survive, but thrive,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of United We Dream, in a call with reporters Wednesday. “We made it to this day, and we made it happen. We hold space for those who couldn’t make it here with us. We are resolute in our commitment to bring peace, joy and stability to our people as we begin a new chapter in this country.”
U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican who represents parts of South Austin and the Hill Country, told the American-Statesman that "offering a pathway to citizenship to those present illegally in the United States sends an unmistakable signal that the U.S rewards those who break our laws and will encourage cartels and human smugglers to redouble their efforts to traffic more people across the border illegally."
"Ending the wall construction and curtailing interior enforcement will only add to the mess that open borders policies have created in our past and will now do so again — all endangering lives of Americans and immigrants alike," he continued. "It’s shameful.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, said he "does not support awarding citizenship to those who are here illegally."
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said he was still reviewing the proposal.
Pathway to citizenship
As many as 1.7 million Texans are in the country without legal authorization — including about 84,000 people in Travis County and 16,000 in Williamson County, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. (The institute did not have data for Hays County.)
Biden's pathway to citizenship would allow unauthorized immigrants to apply for temporary legal status and eventually for green cards, assuming they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay taxes.
“After three years, all green card holders who pass additional background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics can apply to become citizens,” reads a summary of the bill provided by the Biden administration. “Applicants must be physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021”
The bill also would alter the language used in immigration law, changing the word “alien” to “noncitizen” in statute.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, applauded the proposal and wrote on Twitter that a “path to citizenship (for) our undocumented neighbors is long overdue.”
“President Biden’s bill also includes a provision that I've championed: replacing the word ‘alien’ which has been used as a dehumanizing slur,” he continued.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
In a memo, Biden was expected to direct the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to “take all appropriate actions” to preserve DACA. He will also call on Congress to adopt legislation offering permanent status and a pathway to citizenship for people protected by the program.
“I fully support President Biden’s plan to develop a path for citizenship for immigrants who are already contributing so much to our country," U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, told the Statesman. "We have a big challenge to overcome Trump lies and anti-immigrant hysteria, but our new president is already on the right path with his executive order today to provide more certainty to our Dreamers."
The Obama administration adopted DACA in 2012 and the program continued through Trump’s presidency, despite efforts to overturn it. Last June, there were about 645,000 beneficiaries of the program across the country, including 106,400 in Texas, according to the latest federal data.
The program faced numerous legal challenges, including one from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton, along with nine other states, filed suit against the program in 2018, arguing that Obama did not have the authority to create the program through an executive order. The lawsuit is still pending.
In a statement Wednesday, Paxton did not address the lawsuit specifically but pledged to take further action against Biden when necessary.
Other immigration orders
Biden also has pledged to immediately halt construction of a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a pet project of Trump's.
Through a proclamation, Biden was expected to “declare an immediate termination of the national emergency declaration that was used as a pretext to justify some of the funding diversions for the wall.”
He's also calling for a review of the legality of funding and contracting methods behind the portions of the wall that have already been constructed.
Biden plans to enhance technology in use along the country’s borders to “expedite screening and enhance the ability to identify narcotics and other contraband at every land, air, and sea port of entry.”
Biden also is expected to end the Trump administration’s effort to exclude noncitizens from being used in the census for determining the number of congressional seats in an area.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Biden's immigration plan: pathway to citizenship, DACA safeguards, increased aid to Central American countries