Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Biden proposes sweeping immigration reform (Jan. 20, 2021)

Joe Biden will take steps to reverse his predecessor's controversial immigration policies today, his first day in office. He will propose a sweeping immigration reform bill that that would offer legal status and a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented people, fund border security measures other than a wall and provide money and assistance to countries with high numbers of immigrants to address the root cause of migration, incoming administration officials said. 

The backbone of the proposal is the eight-year pathway, which would put millions of qualifying immigrants in a temporary status for five years and then grant them a green card once they meet certain requirements such as a background check and payment of taxes. They would be able to apply for citizenship three years later. Dreamers, temporary protected status (TPS) holders and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements would be eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation. (NBC, Guardian, Washington Post)

The legislation would also restore and expand programs for refugees and asylum seekers after efforts by the Trump administration to effectively prevent entry into the United States for those seeking shelter from poverty, violence and war, reports the New York Times.

The bill also calls for $4 billion to be spent over four years on aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to help the nations address problems spurring migration to the United States. The act would also change immigration laws to use the word “noncitizen” instead of “alien”, increase the number of diversity visas from 55,000 to 80,000 and eliminate the three- and 10-year bans that prevent people from re-entering the US if they have left the country after being there illegally, among other actions. 

"This legislation provides new pathways to citizenship, promotes smart border controls, and ... addresses the root causes of migration," Susan Rice, Biden's incoming domestic policy adviser told the press. To pass the legislation, Biden would probably have to persuade 60 senators, including at least 10 Republicans, to support the bill. Congress balked at similar reforms proposed by former President Barack Obama in 2013. Advocates for immigrants and anti-immigrant restrictionists alike are already bracing for the fight, according to NYT.

A package of more than a dozen executive actions slated for signature today include the repeal Trump's policy on deportation priorities, restrictions on travel from several Muslim-majority countries, stop construction of the Southern border wall. (Non-immigration related executive actions will measures to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and mandate wearing masks on federal property.) Biden administration officials said future immigration executive actions would include plans to address the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), better known as Remain in Mexico

Biden will also issue a presidential memo today to underline the administration’s support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, which allows people who were brought to the US as children without legal documents to temporarily get work visas and be protected from deportation.

Biden's stance marks a dramatic shift from President Trump's hardline policies that made life increasingly more difficult for people living in the country without legal status, notes NPR.  The Biden administration is under pressure from immigration activists to take broad steps to protect those in the United States illegally, concerned that Biden won't move fast enough on campaign pledges.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s incoming national security adviser, said: “The Biden administration is going to have a very different approach to regional migration than what we’ve seen over the last four years, with a special emphasis rooted in years of the president-elect’s commitment to addressing the root causes of migration in the region.”

Biden’s nominee for homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas said yesterday that the Biden administration has a "commitment to follow our asylum laws, to enforce our asylum laws, and that means to provide humanitarian relief to those individuals who qualify for it under the law," when asked about a migrant caravan that left Honduras last week. "That cannot be accomplished with just a flick of a switch and turned on day one, it will take time to build the infrastructure and capacity so we can enforce our laws as Congress intended," he said at his confirmation hearing. (Fox News)

In the meantime, CNN reports the Department of Homeland Security has been putting contingency plans in place, in anticipation of an increase in migrants at the southern border as a result of deteriorating conditions in Latin America and a perceived relaxation of enforcement, and relaying those plans to transition officials. 

News Briefs

  • Most of the migrant caravan that set out last week from Honduras was deflected by Guatemalan security forces, who used tear gas and truncheons against groups that attempted to push forward. By yesterday more than 3,000 had been detained or forcibly sent back by security forces, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Small groups of Honduran migrants managed to slip past Guatemalan authorities and have arrived at the country's border with Mexico, reports Nodal.
  • For years, caravans have been an alternative for migrants seeking safety in numbers, permitting them to avoid hefty fees charged by human traffickers. But the method no longer appears viable, as caravans now run headlong into a militarized response by Central American and Mexican security forces, pushed by the U.S., reports the Washington Post.
  • US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) was set to carry out a final deportation flight of the Trump era on yesterday, with a plane bound for Haiti whose passengers include a man who is not a Haitian citizen, and who has never been there. Biden has promised a 100-day suspension of deportations on taking office, while immigration and Ice procedures are reviewed. (Guardian)
  • It is time to move beyond the false dichotomy that pits conservation against deforestation-based development, write Pedro Abramovay and Heloisa Griggs in Folha de S. Paulo. "Global conservation practices that view the rainforest as an untouched environment derive from the origins of racist and white-centered environmentalism, which ignore or erase Black and indigenous peoples." Instead they advocate a climate justice approach for the Amazon, "a standing and inclusive forest economy that takes advantage of enormous biodiversity to offer green jobs and sustainable growth to the 25 million people who live there." International pressure can play a role, but threatening sanctions only strengthens Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's anti-environmental resolve they warn. Instead, the Biden administration should partner with Amazon governors, mayors, the private sector, civil society and international stakeholders to develop a fair economy with a local focus.
  • Candidates backed by Bolsonaro are expected to win control of Congress next month, despite a deep recession and the world’s second-deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, reports Reuters.
  • The U.N. Human Rights Office referenced kidnappings and gang attacks in parallel to rising political tensions over when elections should be held, and voiced concern that "that persistent insecurity, poverty and structural inequalities in Haiti coupled with increasing political tensions may lead to a pattern of public discontent followed by violent police repression and other human rights violations." (See Monday's briefs on politically targeted kidnappings and Jan. 8's post on the electoral timeline in Haiti.) Calls for mass protests raise concern about policing, and human rights violations committed by gang members during months of social unrest in 2018 and 2019, said the UNHCHR.
  • International oil companies are hoping that Suriname will become the region's next big drilling zone. Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Apache and several other companies are gearing up operations off Suriname’s coast. Low production costs in Suriname would offset low global oil prices, reports the New York Times. Suriname demands a smaller cut from oil companies than several other Latin American countries.
  • Honduras' Garífuna community protested the ongoing disappearance of five community leaders who were detained by armed men in police uniforms last July. The Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH) denounced that Honduras' government has no interest in investigating the crime, which they say forms part of an extermination plan against a community that is defending its territory from land grabbers. (Pasos de Animal Grande)
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica's government began talks with the IMF on Monday, an effort to address a nearly $40bn debt crisis that threatens to rekindle anti-austerity protests, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Peruvian politician Keiko Fujimori said that she would pardon her father, former president Alberto Fujimori, if she wins April's general election. The elder Fujimori is serving a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity and corruption. (AFP)
  • Bolivia's Decolonization Deputy Minister Pelagio Condori filed a complaint against 26 police officers who incited a riot during the political turmoil experienced in the country in November 2019. (Telesur)
  • Mexican archeologists uncovered evidence of violent attacks by Aztec-allies and reprisals by Spanish conquistadores in 1520. Cruelty was on display on both sides in Tecoaque, the site of one of the worst defeats in the Spanish conquest of 1519-21, reports the Guardian.
Regional Relations
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called on the U.S. to make major reforms to its immigration policy and said he was hopeful that Biden would agree to work with Mexico and other countries on the issue. (BBC
  • Oil companies and aid groups plan to press the incoming administration to reverse a ban on crude-for-diesel swaps with Venezuela. (Reuters)
  • The new U.S. vice president's Jamaican heritage is exciting for many Caribbean countries who hope for an ally in the White House. “My father, like so many Jamaicans, has immense pride in our Jamaican heritage and instilled that same pride in my sister and me,” Kamala Harris wrote to the Washington Post. “We love Jamaica. He taught us the history of where we’re from, the struggles and beauty of the Jamaican people, and the richness of the culture.”

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 


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