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The Biden administration is seeking to give separated migrant families the option of reuniting in either the United States or their country of origin, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday. And, he added, if the families choose the former, "we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain" in the United States and "address the family needs, so we are acting as restoratively as possible."

President Biden established a task force focused on the reunification effort earlier this month via executive order. Under the Trump administration, The Hill notes, around 2,800 families were separated in 2018; some were reconnected, but around 550 children had not yet been reunited with their parents. Mayorkas said the Biden administration has brought 105 families together so far. Tim O'Donnell

February 7, 2021

In what is seen as the latest example of President Biden's efforts to roll back former President Donald Trump's restrictive immigration policiues, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday said the Biden administration has notified El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that the United States has suspended, with immediate effect, the Asylum Cooperative Agreements and will begin the process of terminating them.

Under the pacts, which were struck by the Trump administration in 2019, the U.S. could send people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border to the three Central American countries to "share the distribution of asylum claims." Critics argued the policy put asylum-seekers at risk, since the three countries could not credibly provide refuge, meaning the U.S. was not meeting its obligations under international law to help people fleeing persecution.

Blinken said while the move does not mean the U.S. border is "open" and laws "must be enforced," the "Biden administration believes there are more suitable ways to work with our partner governments to manage migration across the region," including addressing "the root causes of forced displacement and irregular migration."

Transfers under the agreements were already on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic — in fact, the pacts with El Salvador and Honduras were never implemented, the State Department said. Read more at NPR and ABC News. Tim O'Donnell

February 1, 2021

Banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and rescinding DACA were well-known, highly public actions carried out by former President Donald Trump as he sought to curb immigration during his lone term in the White House, but his administration also implemented "an extensive, bureaucratic" strategy to "transform immigration through rule changes, adjustments to asylum officers' guidelines, modifications to enforcement norms, and other measures," The New Yorker reports.

Many of these "deceptively mundane" rule changes have been tracked by immigrants' rights groups, and they could be as simple as "changing one single word on a form," said Lucas Guttentag, a law professor at Yale and Stanford who is considered "one of the most fastidious chroniclers" of the low-key alterations over the last four years. For example, the ombudsman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services discovered the agency began rejecting some paperwork if the blank spaces weren't filled out with "N/A," the shorthand for "non-applicable." And the USCIS also redesigned its civics exam so that the answer for the question "Who does a U.S. senator represent?" from "All people of the state" to "Citizens of their state."

Per The New Yorker, Guttentag's tracking project logged 1,058 changes to the immigration system by the end of Trump's presidency, which helped cut the number of legal immigrants to the U.S. nearly in half. Read more at The New Yorker. Tim O'Donnell

January 18, 2021

On his first day in office, President-elect Joe Biden will propose a sweeping overhaul of the country's immigration laws, while also addressing the reasons why people migrate, The Washington Post reports.

Biden's legislative proposal will include an eight-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; the expansion of refugee admissions; and a security plan that deploys technology to the border, at and between ports of entry.

To qualify for the pathway to citizenship, a person must have been in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, several transition officials told the Post. Eligible immigrants will be placed in a temporary status for five years, and after meeting requirements like passing a background check, they will receive a green card. They will be able to apply for citizenship three years later. Undocumented immigrants who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and temporary protected status programs would be able to immediately apply for a green card.

Whether it's due to economic insecurity or safety concerns, "ultimately, you cannot solve problems of migration unless you attack the root causes of what causes that migration," one transition official said, adding that Biden "knows that in particular is the case in Central America." Read more at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

December 5, 2020

Judge Nicholas Garaufis on Friday directed the Trump administration to fully restore the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, which was designed during the Obama administration to protect younger undocumented immigrants from deportation. Per The New York Times, the decision may be the "final blow" to President Trump's years-long quest to eliminate the program.

The order requires the Department of Homeland Security to post a public notice by Monday that it will accept new DACA applicants for the first time since 2017, Bloomberg notes. Under Garaufis' ruling, the government must also extend benefits — including permits to work — back to two years after they had been limited to one year, find a way to contact all immigrants eligible for the program, and produce a status report by Jan. 4.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf issued a memorandum over the summer restricting DACA to people who were already enrolled, but Garaufis ruled in November that was invalid because Wolf had been unlawfully appointed to his position.

The Trump administration can still appeal the ruling in the coming days, and there are other outstanding legal challenges, but if Garaufis' order still stands by the time President-elect Joe Biden takes office, he won't need to take any action to complete his promise of restoring the program. He will, the Times notes, still likely face pressure to push for a permanent legislative solution, however. Read more at The New York Times and Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

September 15, 2020

A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the Trump administration can end humanitarian legal protections for about 405,500 immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Sudan, Honduras, and Nepal. The migrants were welcomed to the U.S. though the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) program for countries hit hard by natural disasters or civil conflict.

The three judge panel, in a 2-1 decision, rejected arguments that the administration had failed to follow proper procedures and that the decision was tainted by racist comments from President Trump and others in his aides. Two of the judges were appointed by Republicans — Trump and George W. Bush — and the dissenting vote was cast by an appointee of President Barack Obama. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the migrants, said it will seek an opinion from the full 9th Circuit and could appeal to the Supreme Court.

"If the decision stands, these longtime lawful residents who were welcomed to the U.S. because their countries were mired in violence or natural disasters could be sent back," the ACLU said. "Because they have several hundred thousand American children — many of whom are school-aged — this decision would force those families to be torn apart."

But that won't happen for months, The Associated Press notes. The TPS holders from Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan could be forced to leave starting March 5, but the Salvadorans have until Nov. 5, 2021, under a special deal worked out with Trump's government. If Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidency in November, he has said he will immediately review the TPS decisions and seek ways for longtime law-abiding residents to remain in the U.S. and seek citizenship. Peter Weber

July 14, 2020

The Trump administration may be caving to criticism — and lawsuits — over a newly-unveiled U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule that would bar international students from remaining in the U.S. if their college instruction remained solely online in the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reports.

ICE hasn't formally published the rule, so there's still time for the White House to amend it, and people familiar with the matter told the Journal that's a real possibility. The administration may not scrap the idea completely, but could instead scale it back following pressure from students, universities, tech companies, and states. Dozens of colleges and universities have already sued the administration.

Currently, the rules would mean foreign students at schools planning to rely only on online courses next semester, like Harvard University, would have to leave the U.S. Per the Journal, if a school switches to remote classes amid a worsening pandemic, those students would have to up and leave.

If the White House does go through with the changes, however, one new iteration of the rule under consideration would allow returning students to remain in the U.S., while still preventing newly-enrolling students from entering, an official told the Journal. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

June 22, 2020

The White House is citing the coronavirus pandemic as the driving force behind President Trump's executive order issued Monday that extends previously implemented immigration restrictions through the end of the year while also expanding the limits to new visa categories.

The Trump administration claims the restrictions — which apply to several different types of work and cultural exchange visas, including those in the technology sector — are meant to protect U.S. workers who lost jobs because of the coronavirus; the White House estimates the executive order will prevent foreign workers from filling 525,000 jobs.

But, per The Washington Post, the president's critics believe the pandemic is masking the Trump administration's actual motivation, which is to satisfy the administration's longstanding goal of curtailing immigration, a key aspect of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The restrictions do continue to provide exceptions. Agricultural laborers, some health care workers, university professors, and child-care providers will still be able to acquire their visas. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

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