If Biden Truly Wants a More “Fair, Orderly, and Humane” Immigration System, He Needs to Do These 6 Things

Kica Matos Former Vice President, Initiatives // Erica Bryant Associate Director of Writing
Feb 04, 2022

The 2020 election brought much joy and relief to immigrant rights activists, many of whom worked around the clock to help defeat a president who made cruelty to immigrants a central tenet of his administration, and amplified the inhumanity of an immigration system that has been never been fair or just. But more than a year after President Biden’s inauguration, activists are reeling from the realization that much of the cruelty ingrained in our immigration system remains intact.

Though the president has promised to build a “more fair, orderly, and humane” immigration system, the United States continues to endanger the lives of people seeking asylum, separate families through deportations, and expel migrants who have a right to seek humanitarian protections.

But with these six key moves, the Biden administration can begin to steer us toward a system grounded in respect and dignity rather than punishment and dehumanization.

  1. Ending the notorious Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). This policy forces people who are seeking asylum at the U.S. –Mexico border to remain in Mexico while the U.S. government considers their asylum requests, endangering people who have fled their homelands to seek safety. Forcing tens of thousands of people to await court proceedings in unsafe border camps is unlawful and inhumane. It is also a violation of U.S. refugee laws, treaty obligations, and the due process rights of people seeking asylum. Courts reinstated MPP after the Biden administration attempted to end the program last year. In a contradictory move, the administration then moved to expand MPP, something it was not mandated by the courts to do. The Biden administration maintains it is committed to ending the program eventually. It is essential that we develop a strategy that successfully ends this anti-asylum policy quickly and permanently.
  2. Providing lawyers to everyone in immigration proceedings. In criminal court, the law mandates that no one face trial and punishment without a government-funded attorney to protect their rights. In immigration court, people aren’t entitled to lawyers, even though permanent family separation and exile are among the harshest penalties a court can deliver. We need a federally funded universal legal defense service for people involved in immigration proceedings, modeled after the criminal federal public defender system. This idea has widespread, bipartisan support: two-thirds of people in the United States are in favor of government-funded attorneys for people facing deportation, and the administration has the legal authority to provide universal representation without Congressional action.
  3. Stopping accelerated and unfair deportation proceedings. The Biden administration has revived and accelerated “Rocket Dockets”—courts that give asylum-seeking families in select cities less than a year to defend their right to stay in the United States. This arbitrary timeline discounts the fact that asylum cases can take years to resolve fairly. Families must secure hard-to-obtain evidence from countries they fled, sometimes with just the clothes on their backs. This takes time, even for highly trained lawyers. Fairness should be the priority in immigration court, not speed.
  4. Eradicating racism in the immigration system. Last year’s images of Black migrants being whipped by United States border patrol officers on horseback offered a searing illustration of the United States immigration system’s fundamental brutality toward Black immigrants. Mass deportations of Haitian people in the wake of a devastating earthquake in Haiti offer further evidence of inhumane treatment. True immigration reform should repair harm done by past and current racist policies and sever the links between immigration enforcement and racist criminal legal system policies and practices that leave Black people more likely to be stopped, searched, and arrested by police, putting them in a pipeline to deportation. The administration should create a clear plan to eliminate policies and practices that continue to support a racist system.
  5. Ending civil detention for adults and children in immigration proceedings. Beyond the government's own reports showing that locking people in immigration detention facilities is manifestly inhumane, decades of research shows that detaining people in prison-like conditions is not necessary to ensure that they show up in immigration court. The United States should end civil detention and invest those resources in providing attorneys to people facing deportation.
  6. Ending Title 42 expulsions. The Trump administration exploited a little-known provision of U.S. health law to deny people the right to ask for asylum protection during the pandemic. The Biden administration has continued to use Title 42 to expel people seeking asylum, even as nearly 11 million people cross the southern border through ports of entry each month. No public health rationale supports the cruel misuse of this law. We need to put an end to unjust deportations of asylum seekers. People seeking protection deserve due process and respect.

President Biden has a choice to make. Will he continue to defend and uphold the Trump administration’s most cruel and dangerous immigration policies, or will he honor his word and finally deliver long-needed reforms? To those who supported his candidacy with hopeful hearts, the path is clear. We need Biden to use this historic opportunity to break free from decades of inhumane policy and deliver an immigration system grounded in respect and dignity for all.