Biden’s policies on immigration

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to make the United States a welcoming place for immigrants, but his plans to dismantle the Trump administration’s barriers to immigration could leave him in a quandary, especially as a new migration surge could be looming.

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(Photos by Carolyn Van Houten, Ricky Carioti and Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

When Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20, he is likely to take on the nation’s immigration policies almost immediately. It could be a difficult task: The new president will have to navigate between the expectations of supporters who demand a total repudiation of President Trump’s restrictive policies and the complex realities of a dysfunctional immigration system.

Biden has pledged to stop work on Trump’s border wall, to change the nation’s approach to immigration enforcement and to again welcome refugees seeking protection from oppression. But experts warn that some shifts could take time amid bureaucratic overhauls and staffing concerns, and it is likely that any new wave of immigration to the U.S. southern border would provide an early test of the Biden administration’s approach to an issue that has been central to Trump’s presidency.

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    Overview
    U.S. Border Patrol agent Joe Curran watches border fence construction in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Lukeville, Ariz., on Jan. 7.
    U.S. Border Patrol agent Joe Curran watches border fence construction in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Lukeville, Ariz., on Jan. 7. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

    Biden to spurn Trump policy as risk of new border crisis looms

    By Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti

    President-elect Joe Biden’s immigration policy proposals are loaded with the wish-list items of immigration advocates and Democratic activists. He has pledged to renew and expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections, raise the refugee limit sevenfold, to 125,000 per year, and immediately stop construction of President Trump’s $15 billion border wall. Biden also has promised to overhaul the country’s asylum system and to make violent and serious offenders the priority for immigration enforcement.

    Border wall
    A section of the border fence that is painted black is seen near downtown Calexico, Calif., on the border between the United States and Mexico, at sunset on Aug. 22, 2019.
    A section of the border fence that is painted black is seen near downtown Calexico, Calif., on the border between the United States and Mexico, at sunset on Aug. 22, 2019. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

    Trump’s border wall, not yet finished, faces uncertain future

    By Nick Miroff

    President Trump’s vision for a wall along the Mexico border will remain unfinished when he leaves office in January. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to stop construction after he is inaugurated, leaving Trump’s monumental project half-built and broken up by gaps.

    DACA
    Arlin Karina Tellez, center, a DACA recipient and student at Trinity Washington University, gathers with others in front of the Supreme Court on Nov. 12, 2019, as the justices hear arguments on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that could affect the fates of nearly 700,000 "dreamers" brought to the United States as undocumented children.
    Arlin Karina Tellez, center, a DACA recipient and student at Trinity Washington University, gathers with others in front of the Supreme Court on Nov. 12, 2019, as the justices hear arguments on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that could affect the fates of nearly 700,000 "dreamers" brought to the United States as undocumented children. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

    A rescue for ‘dreamers,’ but DACA faces court challenges

    By Maria Sacchetti

    President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to immediately reinstate the federal program that protects undocumented immigrants who came to the United States when they were children, a group known as “dreamers.” His opponents already are trying to stop him.

    Enforcement
    Karina Lopez's 1-year-old daughter clings to her after they were detained by U.S. Border Patrol officials after crossing illegally into the United States on June 29, 2017, in McAllen, Tex. Lopez arrived with her daughter and her 16-year-old niece in search of a better life.
    Karina Lopez's 1-year-old daughter clings to her after they were detained by U.S. Border Patrol officials after crossing illegally into the United States on June 29, 2017, in McAllen, Tex. Lopez arrived with her daughter and her 16-year-old niece in search of a better life. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

    Biden sees Obama’s mass deportations as a ‘big mistake’

    By Maria Sacchetti 

    When Joe Biden was vice president, the Obama administration deported about 3 million people, prosecuted thousands for crossing into the United States illegally and expanded family detention after a major influx of Central Americans at the southern U.S. border. Biden has said he would govern differently from President Barack Obama and would take a new approach to immigration enforcement.

    Travel ban
    People take part in a "No Muslim Ban Ever" march and protest of the travel ban imposed by the Trump administration as they head toward the Trump International Hotel on Oct. 18, 2017, in Washington.
    People take part in a "No Muslim Ban Ever" march and protest of the travel ban imposed by the Trump administration as they head toward the Trump International Hotel on Oct. 18, 2017, in Washington. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

    Results of undoing Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ could take years

    By Abigail Hauslohner 

    One of the first moves President Trump made after taking office in 2017 was to implement what became known to critics as his “Muslim ban,” a policy that restricted people from certain countries from traveling to the United States. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged that one of his first actions after taking office on Jan. 20 will be to eliminate that ban.

    Asylum
    Rosa Gomez of Honduras and her family camp for hours along the Gateway International Bridge just across the line that separates Brownsville, Tex., from Mexico on June 23, 2018, in Matamoros, Mexico.
    Rosa Gomez of Honduras and her family camp for hours along the Gateway International Bridge just across the line that separates Brownsville, Tex., from Mexico on June 23, 2018, in Matamoros, Mexico. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

    Unwinding Trump’s asylum policy a major challenge

    By Arelis R. Hernández and Kevin Sieff

    President Trump’s web of restrictive asylum policies lowered immigration levels, pushed many migrants away from U.S. borders and aimed to signal to people worldwide that it would not be easy to seek refuge in the country. Unraveling the programs, regulations and rules designed to shut out asylum seekers will not only be a major policy challenge for President-elect Joe Biden, but it probably will mean recalibrating a federal apparatus that has spent the past four years trying to stop the majority of immigrants from coming.

    Refugees
    Newly-arrived refugees attend a government-required cultural orientation class on Dec. 20, 2019, at World Relief Seattle, a nonprofit resettlement organization in Kent, Wash. (Jovelle Tamayo for The Washington Post)
    Newly-arrived refugees attend a government-required cultural orientation class on Dec. 20, 2019, at World Relief Seattle, a nonprofit resettlement organization in Kent, Wash. (Jovelle Tamayo for The Washington Post)

    Biden wants more refugees, but he’ll need time, resources

    By Abigail Hauslohner

    President-elect Joe Biden pledged that he would raise the annual refugee admissions ceiling to 125,000, after President Trump lowered it significantly. Trump in October set the limit for fiscal 2021 at 15,000 — less than a fifth of the number of refugees resettled in the United States during President Barack Obama’s last year in office. Immigration experts and policymakers say Biden will have no legal obstacles to resetting the limit as soon as he takes office, but after years of historically few refugee arrivals, accepting a surge would require significant resources, time and political compromise.

    Caravans
    Some of the thousands of migrants traveling in a caravan toward the U.S. border ride atop trucks along a highway in Santiago Niltepec, Mexico, on their way to Juchitan, Mexico, on Oct. 30, 2018.
    Some of the thousands of migrants traveling in a caravan toward the U.S. border ride atop trucks along a highway in Santiago Niltepec, Mexico, on their way to Juchitan, Mexico, on Oct. 30, 2018. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

    Migrant caravans, relations with Mexico, could be early test

    By Kevin Sieff and Nick Miroff 

    President Trump didn’t force Mexico to pay for a border wall, but his bully tactics turned the country into a formidable barrier to the destitute Central Americans who travel north toward the U.S. border in mass migration events known as caravans. President-elect Joe Biden could face a difficult test at the border as soon as he takes office. He has pledged to revoke the Migration Protection Protocols that Trump used to bounce border-crossers back into Mexico, but Biden has not indicated how he might handle a new influx of tens of thousands of migrants trying to enter the country. With Central America’s economies hammered by the coronavirus pandemic and several powerful hurricanes this year, the elements of a new crisis are gathering.

    Visas
    David Reyna hugs his mother, Tina Chavez, originally from Mexico, as she participates in the Fiesta of Independence Naturalization Ceremony at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix on July 4, 2018.
    David Reyna hugs his mother, Tina Chavez, originally from Mexico, as she participates in the Fiesta of Independence Naturalization Ceremony at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix on July 4, 2018. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

    Biden vows to ‘restore and defend’ legal immigration

    By Abigail Hauslohner 

    There were executive orders. Presidential proclamations. New rules and regulations. Policy memos. New agency guidance. Immigration experts say that in his four years in office, President Trump fundamentally altered the system through which foreign nationals can obtain visas to come to the United States, much of it through policy memos and internal guidance and without the blessing of Congress. It was a cascade of tiny cuts — and the result, in part, was fewer visas issued. President-elect Joe Biden plans to reverse many, if not all, of the Trump administration policies that immigration lawyers and officials say have reduced the flow of immigrants to the United States, aiming to get things back to the way they were before starting on any fresh goals.

    Nick Miroff covers immigration enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security for The Washington Post. He was a Post foreign correspondent in Latin America from 2010 to 2017, and has been a staff writer since 2006.
    Maria Sacchetti covers immigration for the Washington Post, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the court system. She previously reported for the Boston Globe, where her work led to the release of several immigrants from jail. She lived for several years in Latin America and is fluent in Spanish.
    Abigail Hauslohner covers immigrant communities and immigration policy on The Washington Post's National desk. She covered the Middle East as a foreign correspondent from 2007 to 2014, and served as the Post's Cairo bureau chief. She has also covered Muslim communities in the United States and D.C. politics and government.
    Arelis Hernández is a Texas-based border correspondent on the national desk working with the immigration team and roving the U.S. southern border. Hernández joined the Post in 2014 to cover politics and government on the local desk after spending four years as a breaking news and crime reporter at the Orlando Sentinel.
    About this story

    Editing by Josh White. Design and development by Tyler Remmel. Additional development by Lucio Villa and Junne Alcantara. Design editing by Greg Manifold and Virginia Singarayar. Photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof. Copy editing by Carrie Camillo. Operations by María Sánchez Díez.