Immigration has been at the center of many presidential campaigns, with each cycle bringing about proposals to fix our broken immigration system.
President Biden’s pro-immigration agenda has brought hope to millions, from undocumented people, DACA recipients, asylum and refugee seekers in Iowa and the entire country. Undoing what Trump has done will take a tremendous effort, but it seems that our current president has begun to fulfill his promises since day one.
Out of seventeen executive orders signed by Biden on January 20th, six were related to immigration, from canceling the Muslim ban, halting the construction of the border wall to ordering to preserve DACA, to mention a few.
In my work as an advocate, I have seen my Latino community and others suffer under Trump and I began to wonder how recent positive changes have impacted them.
One who would know is Ann Naffier, an immigration attorney for the nonprofit Justice for our Neighbors who has worked in the field for many years. Naffier said that canceling the Muslim nation travel ban has a tremendous impact on many people in Iowa, since it included countries like Burma and Somalia, places where many refugees come from in Iowa. Many of them had planned to reunite with their relatives and Biden’s executive actions would now allow for that — though COVID-19 is preventing them from doing so now.
In addition, Biden committed to preserving and fortifying DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This comes after a federal court had ordered that recipients of this benefit would be able to apply for the initial program.
Naffier mentioned another executive order that is of most interest to her called “Restoring [the] Faith in Our Legal Immigration System and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.” This last one intended to help make the U.S. be more welcoming and inclusive of immigrants. One way of doing this is forming a task force on new Americans which will make recommendations to the Biden administration.
“I’m interested in the review of public charge policies, which during the Trump administration affected many immigrants, where you have to prove many things most immigrants won’t be able to do, such as proving that they have to be earning 125% level of the poverty level for the entire family by U.S. standards, including proving that you would be able to have health insurance coverage within thirty days of becoming a permanent legal resident, which for people living in a different country is almost impossible to prove,” said Naffier.
The President also addressed asylum and migration from Central America, trying to address many of the issues that are happening along the border, and the possible reinstatement of the CAM (Central American Minors Program). An important one is the creation of a family reunification taskforce that will be responsible of making sure that the 600 kids that were separated from their parents are reunified with their families. He also called for raising the limit of the number of refugees that can be resettling in the U.S. to 125,000.
“Biden is already doing things he promised, and he has done things that he can do single-handedly,” Naffier explained, adding that broader immigration reform will depend on Congress.
“My clients are happy and hopeful with Biden’s actions. They have an urgency to obtain their papers or bring their families, and unfortunately we still have many COVID-19 restrictions that are slowing things down,” she noted.
I also spoke directly to immigrants that may be impacted by these important changes.
Cecilia Martinez, a DACA recipient since 2015 and part of a mixed status household told me, “I’m glad he stuck to his promise to make some changes on his first days in office. I’m also excited for the new Dream Act that was reintroduced in the Senate and hope he can put his support behind it.”
Celia mentioned COVID-19 related issues that affect many undocumented, for instance not qualifying for relief or getting access to the vaccine.
“It’s going to be even more important from the public health perspective to ensure that everyone have access to medical treatment, insurance to help those have been affected,” she said.
The Department of Homeland Security announced their Equal Access to COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines sites encouraging individuals to vaccinate, once eligible under local distribution guidelines and regardless of status. Not only is this morally responsible, it is imperative to address the health crisis.
I also had the chance to speak to Alejandro Ortiz. Alejandro is a community organizer for a newly formed nonprofit organization called Iowa Immigrant Movement for Justice. The organization works with immigrants of all different status, from refugees to DACA recipients, undocumented people, and TPS (Temporary Protected Status).
“Immigrants are hopeful with this administration, but for example people with TPS don’t want to be left behind,” Ortiz said. “DACA recipients, although excited, are also cautious because they want to make sure that their families are protected and they aren’t trade-offs for more increased security in the border or more funding for ICE, because at the end of the day, their families are not going to get the same opportunity right away.”
Ortiz also said that President Biden is presenting new and good opportunities for most immigrants, however the challenges come with the severe lack of appropriate and legitimate legal expertise. This situation lends itself to predatory practices and unscrupulous individuals who look to profit from individuals that are seeking relief. The task at hand will be to make sure these new opportunities are communicated clearly, appropriately and transparently.
For the past four years, Alejandro said DACA recipients had to constantly look over their shoulders. Although they are now filled with hope, they are uncertain because they do not know exactly how the program will look like at the end.
I could sense the excitement among those I spoke to about these changes. There is light at the end of the tunnel, yet they are tired of temporary fixes and look forward to longterm solutions. Immigration reform would be the start. Immigrants have made our nation a prosperous one and continue to do so.
Biden has started his presidency in the right way, but we need to keep him accountable. We need to make sure that immigrants are not an easy target for greedy companies and racist politicians.
by Claudia Thrane
Iowa Starting Line is an independently owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.