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President Joe Biden signed a number of executive orders in his first week in office. Photo: AP

Biden’s evolution on the immigration issue comes at the perfect time

With Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and President Biden eager to undo Trump’s policies, this could be the year for immigration reform.

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Joe Biden is entering the White House as the oldest president in American history at 78 years old, but he also enters as the most experienced politician to serve as our commander in chief. 

Biden spent 36 years in the Senate representing Delaware and served as vice president under Barack Obama for eight years. 

This means that he has experience negotiating with other elected representatives, advocacy groups and world leaders. These will all be crucial in order to deliver positive policy changes for immigrants across the country.

An evolving viewpoint

Biden’s views on the issue of immigration have altered over time, but objectively speaking, they have progressed in a way that makes him more of an ally to immigrant communities. 

As a senator, he voted for the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which led to the creation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

In 2006, Sen. Biden voted for the Secure Fence Act, which authorized 700 miles of fencing along the US-Mexico border. 

While serving as vice president, he formed part of an administration that deported more immigrants than any other. In his two terms working alongside President Obama, over 3 million people were deported, averaging 383,307 removals per year.

In this same role, Biden also oversaw massive policy achievements for immigrants.  

The most notable one was the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. 

This measure from 2012 allowed undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to apply for a work permit and attend college. 

Obama and Biden wanted to go even further but more comprehensive immigration reform measures require the backing of 60 members of the Senate.

Now that Biden has been sworn in as president and has Democratic control of both chambers of Congress, he knows he needs to pass significant bills on immigration. 

He missed the opportunity when he became vice president in 2009. His party had complete control of government in his first two years, but the remaining six he had to govern with a divided Congress or one-fully controlled by the GOP.  

A top priority

As part of their day one executive orders the Biden administration made sure to list immigration as one of his top priorities to address immediately. 

Some of the executive orders included reinstating the DACA program, revoking a plan by the Trump administration to exclude non-citizens from the Census count and halting any further construction of Trump’s southern border wall. 

The Department of Homeland Security also announced a 100 day moratorium on deportations that went into effect on Jan. 22, 2021. 

Kamala Harris will be a huge asset in the new administration’s challenge to deliver on immigration reform. 

The nation’s first female vice president is the daughter of two immigrants, a mother from India and a father from Jamaica.

She was the U.S. Senator from California, a border state where 40% of the population is of Hispanic or Latinx origin. This means Harris understands the struggles of immigrant families first hand because they formed a large part of her constituency. 

California has also delivered on substantial policies for the undocumented community. 

They are one of 15 states to offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and one of nine states to have passed laws extending labor rights to domestic workers (a field whose backbone is women of color). 

Harris also co-sponsored the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Congress with Rep. Pramila Jayapal. 

Her seat in the Senate has been filled by another strong immigrant advocate in Alex Padilla, California’s former Secretary of State. 

He is the child of Mexican immigrants and was sworn in on Wednesday along with the two Democrats that won the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, John Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. 

The Democratic party’s senate has made more comfortable about pushing the US Citizenship Act of 2021

This act includes proposals like family reunification, reduction in administrative burdens and backlogs for asylum seekers and a pathway to citizenship for the over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. 

Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Calif., will introduce the immigration legislation in the House while Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., will head efforts in the Senate. 

Experience is a big factor

Although 60 votes would be needed for such a measure Biden’s extensive experience of negotiating in the Senate should make this more attainable.  

Republicans have shown support for immigration reform in the past. 

Current senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham were part of the famous bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” which also sought a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

If that cannot be achieved now, Democrats can take advantage of the GOP’s internal split after the incident at the capitol to expand their Senate majority in the 2022 midterm elections. 

The elections in Pennsylvania and North Carolina will be especially close since they both have a Republican senator who intends on retiring. 

Biden should try to negotiate the foreign debt obligations of many Latin American countries. 

If these debts can be resolved governments across the region will invest in social safety nets for their people instead of endlessly dealing with the International Monetary Fund.

Foreign aid initiatives are familiar territory for the former vice president as he scored bipartisan support for a $750 million package in 2016 for the Northern Triangle region in Central America. 

Dialogs with these heads of state will become more frequent, especially since the nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken is a strong believer of multilateralism. Beyond controlling the flows of immigrants, this approach is vital for other international problems like climate change. 

President Biden’s former positions as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and being Vice President means that he has dealt with many of these Latin American governments before and understands their domestic dynamics beyond a surface level.

There is no doubt that the President and Harris are walking into a difficult situation but there are many points in favor when it comes to delivering comprehensive immigration reform. 

Biden has been in the position before and cannot take it for granted twice. 

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