Cyprus Mail

Biden begins sweeping away immigration barriers, announces return of US to global climate accord

Migrants From Central America Walk At The Paso Del Norte International Border Bridge To Request For Asylum In The U.s., In Ciudad Juarez
Migrants from Central America walk at the Paso del Norte international border bridge to request for asylum in the US

U.S. President Joe Biden signed half a dozen executive orders on Wednesday to reverse several hardline immigration policies put in place by former President Donald Trump, although migration experts warn that it will take months or longer to unravel many of the restrictions imposed in the past four years. In a sharp departure from his Republican predecessor, Biden, a Democrat, just hours after being sworn in also sent an immigration bill to Congress that proposes opening a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States unlawfully.

The executive actions, signed at a ceremony at the White House, included immediately lifting a travel ban on 13 mostly Muslim-majority and African countries, halting construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall and reversing a Trump order preventing migrants who are in the United States illegally from being counted for congressional districts.

Biden also signed a memorandum directing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. attorney general to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects migrants who came to the country as children from deportation, and reversed Trump’s executive order calling for stricter immigration enforcement away from the country’s international borders. Biden‘s DHS also issued a memorandum calling for a 100-day moratorium on some deportations.

DHS also said it would end all enrollments in a controversial Trump program – known as the Migrant Protection Protocols – that forced more than 65,000 asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for U.S. court hearings. The release did not clarify what will happen to migrants currently in the program, many of whom have been stuck for months in squalid tent camps near the southwest border.

The actions show that Biden is beginning his presidency with a sharp focus on immigration, just as Trump kept the issue at the center of his policy agenda until the last days of his administration – though they come at the issue from radically different perspectives. In one of his rare post-election public appearances, Trump earlier this month visited a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, which he had ordered built by shifting funds, partly from the military budget.

Biden‘s decision to immediately roll back Trump’s travel ban won praise from business groups and migrant advocates. Myron Brilliant, the head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the ban was “was not aligned with American values” and its reversal would help “restore our credibility on the global stage.”


Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, travel to the United States has been curbed and DHS said in its announcement Wednesday that current non-essential travel restrictions will remain in place.

Biden has not yet laid out clear plans for a March 2020 order issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows officials to expel almost all border crossers. Since the order was put in place, around 380,000 people have been quickly sent to their home countries or pushed back to Mexico, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

Incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on a call with reporters on Tuesday it would be “unwise” for migrants to come to the border now because of limited capacity to process asylum claims.

“The situation at the border is one we intend to change, but it is going to take considerable time,” he said.

In Central America in recent weeks, migrant caravans have been on the move, with some aiming to arrive at the southwest border after Biden‘s inauguration.

The president plans additional immigration moves soon. On Jan. 29 he will issue executive actions to restore U.S. asylum protections, strengthen refugee processing and set up a task force to reunify families still separated by Trump’s border policies, according to a memo shared with lawmakers and obtained by Reuters.

The Biden administration will also review barriers to legal immigration put in place by Trump over the past four years, including a regulation that made it harder for poorer immigrants to get permanent residency, the memo said.


Lifting the travel ban and implementing executive orders may be an easier task than getting Congress to pass Biden‘s ambitious immigration bill. It lays out an eight-year road map to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country unlawfully, according to a fact sheet distributed to reporters by incoming White House officials on Tuesday.

Eligible immigrants who were in the country as of Jan. 1 and meet certain requirements would be given a temporary status for five years before being granted green cards. They could apply for citizenship after three more years, officials said.

The wait time for legalization would be shorter for DACA recipients and immigrants living in the United States with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), both programs Trump tried to end. It would also be expedited for some farmworkers.

While Democrats effectively hold a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will be divided 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote. A lack of bipartisan support has torpedoed past efforts to overhaul the immigration system.

On Tuesday, Republican Senator Marco Rubio called the bill a “non-starter” that included “a blanket amnesty for people who are here unlawfully.”

Advocates acknowledge privately the bill will probably serve more as a statement of goals to set the stage for a series of smaller, single-issue bills that might attract more bipartisan support.

President Biden also announced America’s return to the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change, the centerpiece of a raft of day-one executive orders aimed at restoring U.S. leadership in combating global warming.

The announcements also included a sweeping order to review all of former President Donald Trump’s actions weakening climate change protections, the revocation of a vital permit for TC Energy’s Keystone XL oil pipeline project from Canada, and a moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that Trump’s administration had recently opened to development.

The orders by the newly sworn-in president will mark the start of a major policy reversal in the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China, after the Trump administration pilloried climate science and rolled back environmental regulation to maximize fossil fuel development.

Biden has promised to put the United States on a track to net-zero emissions by 2050 to match the steep and swift global cuts that scientists say are needed to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming, using curbs on fossil fuels and massive investments in clean energy.

The path will not be easy, with political divisions in the United States, opposition from fossil fuel companies, and wary international partners concerned about U.S. policy shifts obstructing the way.

“We got off track very severely for the last four years with a climate denier in the Oval Office,” said John Podesta, an adviser to former President Barack Obama who helped craft the 2015 Paris Agreement. “We enter the international arena with a credibility deficit.”

Biden‘s orders also require government agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel efficiency standards and methane emissions curbs, and to study the possibility of re-expanding the boundaries of wilderness national monuments that the Trump administration reduced in size.

While environmental advocates were thrilled by the orders, industry groups and conservatives criticized them.

Alaska’s Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy mocked Biden‘s decision to shut down oil and gas work in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, saying the new president “appears to be making good on his promise to turn Alaska into a large national park.”

The American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s top oil and gas industry lobby group, said it believed blocking the Keystone XL oil pipeline was a “step backward.”

“This misguided move will hamper America’s economic recovery, undermine North American energy security and strain relations with one of America’s greatest allies,” API President Mike Sommers said.


Global counterparts and climate advocates welcomed Washington’s return to cooperation on climate change, but expressed some skepticism about its staying power and its ability to overcome domestic political turmoil.

A group of Republican senators on Wednesday called on Biden to submit his plan to re-engage the United States in the Paris climate agreement to lawmakers for “review and consideration.”

Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris deal late last year, arguing it was too costly to the U.S. economy.

Biden submitted the formal letter to the U.N. secretary-general re-entering the agreement on Wednesday evening, and it will enter force on Feb. 19.

Brian Deese, Biden’s director of the National Economic Council, told Reuters that the United States hopes to encourage other big emitters to also “push their ambition, even as we have to demonstrate our ability to come back on the stage and show leadership.”

Pete Betts, an associate fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House who led climate negotiations for the European Union when the Paris deal was struck, said the United States will need to match its promises with financial commitments too.

The United States under Obama pledged to deliver $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries fight climate change. It has delivered only $1 billion so far.

“The U.S. will need to put some money on the table, and also encourage others to do the same,” he said.


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