It’s an understatement to say stakes are high as the country zeroes in on the state of Georgia, where two runoff elections in January will determine which party will control the U.S. Senate. A victory for the Democrats will give President-Elect Joe Biden the power to execute his political agenda, which prioritizes undoing the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies. And experts insist Biden’s “ability to reshape the country’s immigration system will be sharply limited if Republicans retain control of the Senate,” according to NPR.
Trump’s administration has targeted immigrants through hundreds of executive actions, which has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the flow of legal immigrants into the U.S. Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told reporters at a press conference on Monday that Biden will start with the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to immigration policy. "The easiest will be those that can be reversed with one administrative action, such as an executive order, but don’t come with heavy logistical challenges," Pierce said.
Trump policies that could be reversed relatively quickly include the travel bans on people from 13 countries, many of them with majority-Muslim populations.
The Biden administration is also expected to extend DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy that protects from deportation immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
Pierce said the Biden administration is expected to reinstate DACA in full, allowing applications from tens of thousands of immigrants who have become eligible since 2017, when the Trump administration tried to terminate the program.
"We’re glad to see the Biden transition team is preparing to roll back Trump’s policies that have detained, deported and killed immigrants," Greisa Martinez Rosas, the executive director of United We Dream and a DACA recipient, told NPR. "Protecting DACA is the floor, not the ceiling, of what a Biden-Harris administration must do."
Biden’s administration also has to figure out the best way to approach the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, unofficially known as Remain in Mexico. As NPR states, MPP “has forced more than 60,000 migrants to wait for their day in U.S. immigration courts in dangerous Mexican border towns.”
"They really are in a difficult situation politically," Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told NPR. Krikorian added that because MPP has been successful at deterring migration from Central America, if Biden puts a halt to the policy, "that sends the message to people in El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala that it’s go time," which could potentially create a new surge of migrants at the border.
Ultimately, Republican control of the Senate could jeopardize Biden’s ability to execute meaningful changes to the country’s immigration system. According to NPR:
The president-elect has promised to send legislation to Congress in the first 100 days of his administration that would create a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
But that bill — as well as any other ambitious agenda items that require congressional approval — would face an uphill battle if Republicans retain control of the Senate.
Short of that, a Biden administration could still use its executive authority to reshape the immigration system piece by piece, as the Trump administration has done.
Krikorian maintains a glimmer of hope, regardless of which party controls the Senate. He believes federal courts may be more open to Biden’s immigration agenda than they were to Trump’s. “The Biden people can undertake a level of change in immigration policy that will dwarf anything Trump did even without getting anything through Congress," he said.