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Joe Biden says he won't reverse Donald Trump's immigration laws right away as it needs 'getting a lot in place'

Two of his top advisors -- Susan Rice and Jake Sullivan -- have also echoed his thoughts saying a gradual change is what needed at the Mexico border
UPDATED DEC 23, 2020
President-elect Joe Biden and immigrants at US border (Getty Images)
President-elect Joe Biden and immigrants at US border (Getty Images)

One of President Donald Trump’s major electoral planks has been his anti-immigrant stance and ideas like building a wall along the US’s border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country. Since 2017, the incumbent president has taken executive actions restricting travel, green cards and guest worker programs and eyeing elimination of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. Joe Biden, the president-elect, has planned the opposite and Trump’s critics were looking forward to the Democratic president-in-waiting to reverse all the draconian immigration policies that the Republican has pursued over the last four years. 

But the road will not be too easy for the new president and he has acknowledged it. At a press conference on Wednesday, December 22, Biden said: “It will get done and it will get done quickly. But it’s not going to be able to be done on Day One.” He said this when asked about his plan to bring institutional changes in the immigration policy. The Washington Post cited Wednesday, December 23, Biden’s transition officials saying that the new administration would ‘need time’ to roll back the ‘damage’ that the current president’s policies had done on immigration through Mexico and other asylum claims. 

Biden’s remarks came at a time when interceptions along the border have gone up. American authorities have faced immigrants at the Mexico border more than 70,000 times in the last two months and it is four times the number seen in April, the Associated Press reported. “Some experts predict the surge could increase in the early months of Biden's presidency, as a response to the damage wrought by the two hurricanes that have pummeled Central America and the economic fallout from the pandemic, as well as expectations of a more humane approach to immigration from the Biden Administration,” the report said. 

The president-elect’s remarks also reflect those made by two of his top foreign policy officials who are set to take over next month. In an interview with Spanish wire service EFE on Monday, December 21, incoming domestic policy advisor Susan Rice and national security advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan warned that making changes too quickly could prove to be counterproductive and create a new crisis at the border. 

'Situation at border will not transform overnight'

“Migrants and asylum seekers absolutely should not believe those in the region peddling the idea that the border will suddenly be fully open to process everyone on Day 1. It will not,” Rice said in the interview. Rice, who served as the NSA in the Barack Obama administration between 2013 and 2017, said the new administration would provide a “transformative vision for addressing migration in our region” and would work towards “a fair, humane and orderly immigration system.”

Incoming domestic policy advisor Susan Rice (Getty Images)

“We will be able to take some steps to change policies right away,” Rice said. “Others will take time to put in place, and the situation at the border will not transform overnight due in large part to the damage done over the last four years. But we are committed to addressing it in full.”

Sullivan, on the other hand, said in the interview that the administration would not right away end the Migration Protection Protocols that Biden had promised to terminate on his first day in office. Under those policies, asylum seekers are made to return to Mexico to wait outside the American territory, sometimes in poor conditions, while US courts process their claims.  

Incoming NSA Jake Sullivan (Getty Images)

Biden said the last thing his administration will need is to see two million people stuck on the borders by immediately stopping the access to asylum the way it is being run at the moment. “It's a matter of setting up the guardrails so we can move in the direction,” the former vice president said.  Biden also said that his team has “already started discussing” the issue with the authorities in Mexico and the US’s “friends in Latin America”. He repeated his campaign calls for a “much more humane policy based on family unification” but also cautioned that it needs “getting a lot in place”, including funding for issues like asylum judges. 

A delay on the Biden administration’s behalf to act on the matter could see criticism surfacing as immigrant advocacy groups and others who condemn Trump’s policies have asked Biden to bring wholesale changes in America’s enforcement model to stop illegal immigration through detention and deportation.