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President Biden – New Hope for Immigration Action

Elections result in change. This election has renewed hope in rewriting America’s Immigration Policies. President Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. During his campaign, he promised he would bring sweeping immigration reform and help fix the broken system. As promised, he went to work on day one presenting a sharp new direction than the previous administration. He issued executive orders reversing the Trump travel ban and reinstating DACA. He immediately sent a bill to congress creating a path to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people in the United States. That bill is in consideration and discussion right now.

The immigration bill sent to congress gives a path to citizenship to anyone who was physically in the United States on or before January 1, 2021. The regulation would give temporary status to those that are here undocumented. Those individuals will be eligible to apply for a green card after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their appropriate taxes. Anyone who has already received DACA, TPS or are currently an immigrant farmer will be allowed to apply for a green card immediately. Once receiving their green card, this group will be eligible to apply for citizenship after three years instead of the typical five-year period of time.

The Biden Immigration Reform Bill

The regulation will also focus on keeping families together. It will work to clear the family based immigration backlog, recapture unused visas, eliminate lengthy wait times and increase per country visa caps. It further eliminates the 3- and 10-year bars from entry and other provisions that keep families apart.

The Biden plan focuses on fixing and modernizing the immigration courts. As stated in the proposed bill, it is meant to restore “fairness and balance to our immigration system by providing judges and adjudicators with discretion to review cases and grant relief to deserving individuals.” This should mean the return of civility in the immigration courts, prosecutors who are willing to talk to immigration attorneys to resolve some cases quickly and give power back to the immigration judges to make fair and impartial decisions.

The key takeaways of the Immigration Reform Bill are:

  • Supporting Families

  • Providing a path to citizenship

  • Protecting workers

  • Managing the borders and enhance resources

  • Stopping criminals who exploit immigrants

  • Strengthening the Immigration court system

A Shift in Immigration Priorities

In accordance with President Biden’s vision for US Immigration the acting head of the Department of Homeland security has issued a memo outlining a stark shift from the last four years. Over the last four years every illegal immigrant was a priority. In the previous administration’s mission of law and order, any immigration violation, including over staying your visa, was considered a crime and a reason for punitive action.

In the memo issued on day one of the Biden administration, the Acting Secretary of DHS shifted priorities back to focusing on true criminals. Starting February 1, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security will shift their priorities to focus on individuals who are a threat to national security, border security and public safety. While this change in focus is in effect, the government will review all of their policies and come to a final decision on what their focus should be moving forward. The memo also stops deportation of anyone who was to be deported for 100 days as long as they meet certain criteria. This means being physically present in the United States and not suspected of terrorism or espionage.

As an immigration attorney, I am often asked the question regarding how quickly immigration guidelines can change. In one day, with the change of an administration, everything can change. No, not everything actually changed however the shift in principles can swiftly change the direction and intent of how immigration laws are applied. Much of immigration comes down to the discretion of the government. They have a limited amount of resources to pursue every violation of immigration laws. As such, they have the ability to use their full force in pursuing all immigration violations or they can set a hierarchy of priorities to better focus their resources. For the previous administration, every violation law was pursued. This led to instances where people who overstayed their visas were sought out by ICE, placed in detention centers and put into deportation proceedings. Overstaying your visa is a violation of law and the government was well with in its rights to pursue such cases.

The new administration would likely take a different approach to such a case. As stated in the priority memo, their focus will shift to those who have committed more egregious crimes. This policy shift does not change the law and give legal rights to someone who overstayed, but it means they are less likely to be actively hunted and placed in a detention center.

Gadi Zohar

There have been times when a President takes office and makes sweeping changes to immigration, as was the case with President Regan’s amnesty program in 1986. In President Regan’s reform act there were an estimated 2.7 million people that were granted a pathway to citizenship. President Biden’s bill gives the same hope to the over 11 million undocumented people in the United States. The past four years have been hard on immigrants. I have seen things firsthand that I never would or could have expected in the United States. Today is a new day for immigration and immigrants. Elections have consequences and the world really can change in a day.

I am dedicated to helping every immigrant. It is critical to know when and what actions you need to implement. Now is the time to start your path.

-Gadi Zohar