Biden Harris Immigration Policy: Hope for New Roadmaps to Citizenship

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Now that former Vice President Biden is our new President Elect, let's take a closer look at the Biden Harris administration's immigration plans and policies. President Elect Biden outlined 6 immigration goals he promises to achieve once he takes office. He will prioritize undoing the Trump administration's immigration policies. During the October 22nd debate, he announced that "within 100 days," he is going to send to the United States Congress "a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people."

The possibility that Biden will spend his full four-year term passing meaningful immigration reforms brings new hope to so many that dream of making the United States their permanent home. Clearly, Biden is willing to use executive authority to swiftly undo any egregious anti-immigrant policies while working with Congress to enact more sweeping and durable reforms through legislation. With great patience, the roadmaps will unfold before us if the Biden-Harris presidency manifests.

Be cautiously optimistic, because government agencies including ICE, CBP and USCIS will take time to effectuate change. Moreover, new laws and executive orders will face legal challenges. Trump's appointees in the district and circuit courts and in the Supreme Court are likely to serve as a brake on Biden’s immigration reforms.

It's clear from Biden's plan that building a fair and humane immigration system is his overall goal. He lays forth a plan to enforce the laws of the United States without targeting communities, violating due process, or tearing apart families. He has shown consistency over time in his own values, so we can have faith that Joe Biden will work to ensure that our nation's values are reflected in our immigration and enforcement policies.


1. Take Urgent Action to Undo Trump’s Damage and

Reclaim America’s Values

Here is a closer look at #1.

The Biden Administration promises the following actions in the first 100 days in office:

  • Immediately reverse Trump Administration policies that separate parents from their children at our border.

  • End Trump asylum policies and restore asylum laws so that they do what they are designed to do–protect people fleeing persecution and who cannot return home safely. 

  • End the mismanagement of the asylum system. Biden will direct the necessary resources to ensure asylum applications are processed fairly and efficiently, while treating families and children with compassion and sensitivity. 

  • Biden will dramatically increase U.S. government resources to support migrants awaiting assessment of their asylum claims and to the organizations providing for their needs. 

  • End prolonged detention and reinvest in a case management program. 

  • Reverse Trump’s public charge rule. Biden will not permit an individual’s ability to receive a visa or gain permanent residency contingent on their use of government services such as SNAP benefits or Medicaid, their household income, and other discriminatory criteria.

  • Stop building a wall. 

  • Protect Dreamers and their families by reinstating the DACA program. “Dreamers” are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, obeyed the law once here, and stayed in school or enlisted in the military and DACA provided young people who passed a background check and application process with temporary work permits and protection from deportation. In the long term, Biden wants Dreamers and their parents to have a roadmap to citizenship and he intends to achieve this through legislative immigration reform. Biden will also ensure Dreamers are eligible for federal student aid and are included in his proposals to provide access to community college without debt.

  • Rescind travel and refugee bans.

  • Order an immediate review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure.  Through legislative immigration reform, Biden intends to offer a path to citizenship to TPS/DED holders who have been in the country for an extended period of time and built lives in the United States.

  • Restore sensible enforcement priorities. Targeting people who have never been convicted of a serious criminal offense and who have lived, worked, and contributed to our economy and our communities for decades is the definition of counterproductive. Biden will direct enforcement efforts toward threats to public safety and national security. President Biden will end raids at sensitive locations. Biden intents to make hospitals/medical centers, the workplace, schools, and places of worship a safe place free from fear of an immigration enforcement action. 

  • Ensure that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel abide by professional standards and are held accountable for inhumane treatment. Biden will increase resources for training and demand transparency in and independent oversight over ICE and CBP’s activities.

  • Protect and expand opportunities for people who risked their lives in military service. 

  • A Biden Administration will streamline and improve the naturalization process to make it more accessible to qualified green card holders by addressing the application backlog, ensuring applications are processed quickly and rejecting the imposition of unreasonable fees. 

  • Under President Biden, the Task Force on New Americans will coordinate federal agencies and resources to provide community support across issues including language learning, entrepreneurship and financial management, workforce training, and guidance on the naturalization process.

  • Convene a regional meeting of leaders, including from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Canada, to address the factors driving migration and to propose a regional resettlement solution. 


2. Modernize America’s immigration system

Let’s examine the 2nd element of Biden's action plan. A Biden administration will work with Congress to pass the following legislation:

  • Create a roadmap to citizenship for the nearly 11 million people who have been living in and strengthening our country for years. Biden will aggressively advocate for legislation that creates a clear roadmap to legal status and citizenship for unauthorized immigrants who register, are up to date on their taxes and have passed a background check. 

  • Reform the visa program for temporary workers in select industries. 

  • Reform the system of high skilled temporary visas.

  • Provide a path to legalization for agricultural workers who have worked for years on U.S. farms and continue to work in agriculture. 

  • New family-based immigration legislation that allows any approved applicant to receive a temporary non-immigrant visa until the permanent visa is processed; and by supporting legislation that treats the spouse and children of green card holders as the immediate relatives they are, exempting them from caps, and allowing parents to bring their minor children with them at the time they immigrate. 

  • Preserve the Diversity Visa lottery and preferences for diversity in the current system.

  • Increase the number of visas offered for permanent, work-based immigration based on macroeconomic conditions. Currently, the number of employment-based visas is capped at 140,000 each year, without the ability to be responsive to the state of the labor market or demands from domestic employers. As president, Biden will work with Congress to increase the number of visas awarded for permanent, employment-based immigration—and promote mechanisms to temporarily reduce the number of visas during times of high U.S. unemployment. He will also exempt from any cap recent graduates of PhD programs in STEM fields in the U.S. who are poised to make some of the most important contributions to the world economy. Biden believes that foreign graduates of a U.S. doctoral program should be given a green card with their degree and that losing these highly trained workers to foreign economies is a disservice to our own economic competitiveness. 

  • Creates a new visa category to allow cities and counties to petition for higher levels of immigrants to support their growth. As president, Biden promises to support a program to allow any county or municipal executive of a large or midsize county or city to petition for additional immigrant visas to support the region’s economic development strategy, provided employers in those regions certify there are available jobs, and that there are no workers to fill them.

  • Enforces the rules to protect American and foreign workers alike. The U.S. immigration system must guard against economy-wide wage cuts due to exploitation of foreign workers by unscrupulous employers who undercut the system by hiring immigrant workers below the market rate or go outside the immigration system to find workers.

  • Increase visas for domestic violence survivors: Biden intends to end VAWA processing delays by tripling the current cap of 10,000 on U-visas.

  • Expand protections for undocumented immigrants who report labor violations.  Victims of any workplace violations of federal, state, or local labor law could obtain a visa, similar to a U-Visa, by securing passage of the POWER Act. And, a Biden Administration will ensure that workers on temporary visas are protected so that they are able to exercise the labor rights to which they are entitled.

  • This POWER Act is a bill that amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to expand the non-immigrant U-visa category (crime victims and their immediate family members) to include an alien who: 

- has suffered substantial abuse or harm resulting from a workplace violation claim; 

is a victim of specified criminal activity or a workplace violation and would suffer extreme hardship upon removal; 

- has been helpful in a workplace violation investigation; or 

- has filed, is a material witness in, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation of a workplace claim and reasonably fears, or has been the victim of, employer retaliation.

An alien who is a material witness in a workplace claim and who has been helpful in a related law enforcement action may remain and work temporarily in the United States.


3. Welcome Immigrants in our Communities

The focus of Step 3 is on welcoming immigrants. Immigrants bring tremendous economic, cultural, and social value to their new communities. In order to develop concrete policy and program recommendations that provide opportunities for new immigrants, the Biden-Harris administration will listen to and learn from local municipalities across the country that have successfully built vibrant and inclusive communities and economies at the grassroots level. Biden promises to achieve this by:

  • Reestablishing the Task Force for New Americans to support community efforts to welcome immigrants. A Biden Administration will improve access to federal agencies and better support local initiatives, such as:

  • Establishing Offices of Immigrant Affairs in city halls, or at the county and state levels, so there are local government officials focused on making policies inclusive;

  • Creating neighborhood resource centers or welcome centers to help all residents

- find jobs

- access services

- locate English-language learning opportunities

- navigate the school system,

- navigate the health care system, and

- other important facets of daily life;

  • Supporting entrepreneur incubators targeted toward immigrants and providing resources to help access business loans, mentoring, and capital;

  • Promoting statewide seals of biliteracy to recognize people who graduate from high school speaking multiple languages;

  • Driving campaigns to help lawful permanent residents naturalize; 

  • Facilitating statewide efforts to lower the barriers to relicense professional degrees and certifications from other countries;

  • Increasing immigrant representation on community boards; 

  • Ensuring that all public schools have sufficient English-language learning support to help all children reach their potential; and

  • Investing in programs to connect immigrant professionals to others in their field or to create cultural events and other programming to build social capital in immigrant communities.

  • Push to repeal extreme, anti-immigrant state laws that have a chilling effect on the ability of immigrant domestic violence, sexual assault survivors, and other victims of crimes to seek safety and justice. Biden will work in partnership with cities, states, nonprofits, and law enforcement to build trust and push for states to repeal the laws that "chill" (prevent) the reporting of domestic violence incidents and threaten public safety.

  • Expand rights to domestic workers and farmworkers. Biden will support legislation that expands federal protections to agricultural and domestic workers, ensuring that they too have the right to basic workplace protections, to organize, to collectively bargain and to have a voice in the workplace through a wage and standards board.


4. Reassert America’s Commitment to

Asylum-Seekers and Refugees 

As president, Biden promises to:

  • Surge asylum officers to efficiently review cases. Migrants who qualify for an asylum claim will be admitted to the country through an orderly process and connected with resources that will help them care for themselves. Migrants who do not qualify will have the opportunity to make their case before an immigration judge, but if they are unable to satisfy the court, the government will help facilitate their successful reintegration into their home countries. 

  • Restore asylum eligibility for domestic violence survivors. Under the Biden Administration, the Department of Justice will reinstate explicit asylum protections that were rescinded by the Trump Administration for domestic violence and sexual violence survivors whose home governments cannot or will not protect them. 

  • Apply United States asylum law to those fleeing political persecution.

  • Double the number of immigration judges, court staff, and interpreters to effectively handle the backlog of more than one million immigration cases in the administrative system, resulting in applicants often waiting years before their cases are heard.

  • End for-profit detention centers. 

  • Increase the number of refugees we welcome into the country. Biden will set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000 and seek to raise it over time to relate to global need.


5. Tackle the Root Causes of the

United States Border Migration Problem

Biden believes that working in a cooperative manner with countries in the region to manage the crisis is part of the solution. The best way to solve the border migration challenges in the United States is to address the underlying violence, instability, and lack of opportunity that is compelling people to leave their homes in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in the first place.

As president, Biden plans to pursue a comprehensive strategy to strengthen the security and prosperity of Central America in partnership with the people of the region that: 

  • Addresses the root causes of migration by fostering greater security, economic development, and respect for the rule of law in Central America. Biden will propose a four-year, $4 billion package of assistance for the region, with aid linked to governments in the region delivering measurable reductions in gang and gender-based violence, improvements in legal and educational systems, and implementation of anti-corruption measures, among other things. This support will also be supplemented by international donors and regional partners. 

  • Strengthen regional humanitarian responses. The inability of the Northern Triangle countries to stem the violence and terror in the region has created a regional refugee challenge. Almost every country in the region is receiving refugees and struggling to protect and care for children and families. As a leader in the region, the U.S. has a responsibility to help our neighbors and partners process and support refugees and asylum seekers. This will also help relieve the pressure at our own border.

  • Manage migration through refugee resettlement and other legal programs. Biden believes that whenever possible, the United States should enable asylum-seekers to make their claim without undertaking the dangerous journey to cross the Southern Border to the United States. Biden will:

- Update the Central American Minors program for certain children seeking to reunify with U.S. relatives, allowing them to apply for entry from their home countries;

- Expand efforts to register and process refugees in the region for resettlement in the U.S. and other countries; and

- Expand opportunities for individuals seeking temporary worker visas or another form of legal status for which they may qualify to be able to come to the U.S.


6. Implement Effective Border Screening

Biden knows that immigrants and immigrant communities are not a threat to the security of the United States - but that other real threats are real and certain. His position that the United States needs smart, sensible policies that will strengthen our country's ability to catch these real threats by improving screening procedures at our legal ports of entry and investing in new technology.

As president, Biden promises to:

  • Invest in better technology coupled with privacy protections at the border, both at and between ports of entry, including cameras, sensors, large-scale x-ray machines, and fixed towers. Biden will also invest heavily in improving the aging infrastructure at all of our ports of entry. 

  • Improve cross-agency collaboration. Multiple federal agencies collect information on transnational criminal organizations that smuggle people, arms, and illegal narcotics. To effectively combat the trafficking of illicit goods at ports of entry, coordination must be improved across and between government agencies while also remaining consistent with a commitment to privacy. 

  • Work with Mexico and Canada as partners — not as adversaries. Better cooperation with our neighbors translates to greater security for all our countries. Biden will build partnerships grounded in respect to pursue our shared interests and enhance our shared capabilities and information. 

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