When Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021, he will face many challenges: the Coronavirus pandemic, global climate change, and economic instability are probably the top concerns on his agenda. But it’s worth considering how immigration policies and laws might change under the Biden Administration.
We don’t yet know which political party will control the Senate. Georgia has a special election on January 5, 2021 that will determine the winners of the state’s two Senate seats. Both Democratic candidates would need to win in order for the Senate to end up with 50 Senators affiliated with the Democratic Party, and 50 Republicans. In that scenario, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaker, giving Democrats control of the Senate. But if either one or two Republican candidates in Georgia win their Senate races, then Republicans will retain control of the Senate.
Control of the Senate will determine how much Biden will be able to accomplish on immigration and many other issues.
In any event, perhaps one of the first immigration issues Joe Biden will address will simply be to get the U.S. consulates around the world to return to work and begin issuing visas again. Under the Trump Administration, the processing of visas slowed down to a crawl, especially for applicants in Africa, Asia, and South America. Applicants in Haiti, for example, received 67 percent fewer immigrant visas between 2016 and 2019 than previously. Applicants in Iran experienced a drop of nearly 80 percent. And that time period, of course, was before the Coronavirus pandemic.
For applicants applying for permanent residence within the United States, Joe Biden will need to undo many of Trump’s policies that slowed down USCIS in the processing of applications.
Biden will also face a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border created by Trump, whose punishing policies turned away thousands of Central American asylum applicants. Many of those persons are in dangerous conditions in Mexico, waiting for an opportunity to simply ask for asylum in the United States.
DACA is another issue that Biden likely will try to address. A lasting solution – a path to permanent residence and citizenship – would require the approval of Congress. In the meantime, Biden might try to undo Trump’s damage to the DACA program, perhaps by returning renewals to two-year periods (rather than one) and allowing applications from persons who have never had DACA in the past.
And there are yet more immigration issues for Biden: What to do with Trump’s unfinished border wall? How to undo Trump’s “Muslim ban”? How to return the refugee resettlement program to normal levels after Trump severely cut it back?
Joe Biden will need to face all of these immigration issues, and more, in 2021 and beyond.