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Julia Brown is the advocacy and outreach director for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.
Four years of damage to a U.S. immigration system that is rooted in a long history of systemic racism — and the suffering and trauma that it causes — can’t be fixed in just a few days.
The maliciousness of the Trump administration and its willingness to attack people of color and of different religions infected every part of our government’s interaction with immigrants, and promoted an agenda of white supremacy that our country will struggle to overcome for years.
As of Jan. 20, there is hope that the work is beginning, but it will take sustained advocacy to ensure that long-term, meaningful change occurs. We need to do more than fix the damage of the past four years. We must completely rebuild the U.S. immigration system so that it reflects true justice and equity.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden made sweeping changes to the policies of the previous administration and telegraphed more to come. Some of the biggest changes are on immigration, where the new president has issued a series of executive orders to end some of the most cruel and anti-immigrant policies enacted during the Trump years. In the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project’s work with immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, we see firsthand how federal policies impact real lives and cause real harm.
With his executive actions, Biden ended the anti-Black and anti-Muslim travel ban for predominantly Muslim and African countries. The president called the bans “a stain on our national conscience” and said that they are “inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all.”
The president also took action to protect “Dreamers,” by persevering and strengthening the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and he ordered the Department of Homeland Security to set immigration enforcement priorities that are in line with our values and priorities and to focus on issues of public safety and national security.
Homeland Security followed with a memo outlining the changes, which includes a moratorium on most deportations for 100 days to allow the Biden administration to assess and recommend policy changes. The memo additionally directs Immigration and Customs Enforcement to review current deportation orders to determine if alternatives to removal may be more appropriate.
The memo also ends several Trump-era policies, including one that allowed the government to deport trafficking survivors if their applications for status were denied. This forced many trafficking survivors to remain in the shadows, fearing that a denied application would send them to immigration court.
With these actions, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris sent a clear message that immigration is a top priority for the administration.
Justice, however, cannot be achieved with executive action alone. And the problems buried deep within the immigration system will not be fixed without Congress and the administration taking bold action to create a new immigration system rather than simply reforming the current one that is rooted in systemic racism.
At the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, we have identified additional policy changes and reforms that are critical for the families that use our services. Those changes include improving the way our country treats people who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, protecting the unity of all families, making sure that immigrant children are treated with care and ending the criminalization of immigration.
Our communities are stronger, healthier and more resilient when we have thoughtful, compassionate and fair immigration laws. The Biden administration has made a good start on reforms, but the work will only be complete when we look forward and build a new immigration system that provides justice and welcomes those who come to the United States to seek safety, reunite with family or pursue a better life.