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Six months after the inauguration of President Joe Biden and the start of the 117th Congress, much has happened on immigration and refugee policy. Here is a summary of what has occurred so far and a look at what is to come.

Administration

The United States can and must become a country that offers home and refuge to those seeking safety.

The Biden Administration issued several executive orders in January which FCNL supported. The President:

  • Ended the travel bans affecting refugees from predominantly African and Muslim countries;
  • Fortified Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that protects undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children
  • Increased the refugee resettlement numbers to 62,500 for this fiscal year, after facing significant pressure from refugee advocacy groups and members of Congress.

President Biden also sent a bill to Congress, the United States Citizenship Act (USCA), which would provide a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented people in the United States, among other important provisions.

The Biden administration recently extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians for 18 months. Although a significant win, TPS, as its name suggests, this is a temporary measure, and Congress must deliver a permanent solution.

The Biden Administration yet to repeal Title 42, a Trump-era public health policy that expels asylum seekers without due process under the auspices of Covid-19 precautions and concerns. The policy has been particularly damaging to Black immigrants, providing the basis for the government’s deportation of more than 1,400 Haitian adults and children since February 2021.

Congress

The House of Representatives passed the Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6) in March 2021. However, it will be difficult to secure the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass the  Dream Act (S. 264) and SECURE Act (S. 306)—two Senate bills that together are the equivalent of the Dream and Promise Act. These bills would provide pathway to citizenship for DACA, TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders.

Similar legislation has been introduced and passed by the House, such as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R.1603), but it faces similar challenges in the Senate. Harmful, proposed legislative compromises, including increased funds for the border wall and deportation mechanisms, have been raised as part of Congressional negotiations.

Currently, we are advocating for Congress to include a pathway to citizenship for DACA, TPS, essential workers, and farmworkers in recovery legislation, and pass it through reconciliation. This would require only 51 votes in the Senate. There can be no long-term economic recovery without immigrants. More than 5 million undocumented essential workers have been serving in the front lines of the pandemic.

What’s happening at the border?

In March 2021, more than 18,000 unaccompanied minors arrived at the U.S. southern border. The situation at the southern border right now is not unprecedented. It is part of a pattern that stems—in part—from the United States’ hyper-militarized, enforcement-only approach to border security. What’s happening is a result of the deeply broken immigration policies that have been in place for decades.

It’s time to forge a new path towards a more humane immigration system.

The current situation at the U.S. southern border is not the result of an “open-borders” policy. Rather, current policies such as Title 42 are actually expelling most asylum seekers, with exception of unaccompanied minors. The Biden administration has proposed increased funding for immigration enforcement agencies.

The United States can and must become a country that offers home and refuge to those seeking safety. Our faith calls us to move towards this vision of migration justice, as outlined in the Quaker Migration Statement.

It’s time to forge a new path towards a more humane immigration system. We must limit federal funding to problem agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP); create a pathway to citizenship for DACA, TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders; and begin to address the root causes of migration through U.S. foreign policy.

Maria Isabel (Marisa) Leon-Gomez

Marisa León-Gómez Sonet

Legislative Associate, Immigration & Refugee Program
Marisa León-Gómez Sonet served as FCNL’s Legislative Associate for the immigration and refugee program for 2020-2021.

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