NEW YORK, United States (CMC) – A plethora of Caribbean and other immigration advocates have welcomed new United States President Joe Biden’s rescission of some of his predecessor’s immigration policies by unveiling the US Citizenship Act, which provides a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants, including Caribbean nationals, without legal status.
Four years after leading the fight against former US President Donald J Trump’s Muslim ban, immigrant rights advocates on Thursday celebrated Biden’s rescission of the ban and the unveiling of the Act.
Biden’s Executive Order is part of a sweeping immigration agenda that includes a stop to the border wall construction and the fortification of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme.
DACA is an Obama Administration programme that protected about 700,000 young Caribbean and other immigrants, known as “Dreamers”, from deportation. Trump had unsuccessfully tried to rescind DACA.
“Ending the Muslim ban marks the beginning of erasing Trump’s heinous legacy on immigration,” Murad Awadeh, interim co-executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella group of Caribbean and other immigrant groups, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
“After four years of family separation and racial profiling, we are grateful to bring to a close an era marked by so much pain and senseless cruelty in our Muslim communities,” he added. “But we also know that much more is needed to ensure that all immigrants are protected and empowered.
“The US Citizenship Act is exactly the legislation we need now,” continued Awadeh, stating that the Act recognises “how foundational immigrants have always been to America’s success and how critical they will be to our economic recovery from this pandemic and into the future.
“We will continue to work with the Biden Administration, our New York Congressional leaders and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to ensure that this critical legislation is enacted to assure the health and well-being of every single New Yorker,” he said.
Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said that, four years ago, New Yorkers rushed to JFK (John F Kennedy International Airport) to stand against the Trump Administration’s racist and xenophobic travel ban on Muslim and African countries.
“Today, we celebrate the repeal of these bans, as we continue to fight to build a truly just and humane immigration system,” she said. “We look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration to address the harms perpetuated by the Trump Administration and to create a path to citizenship for the undocumented.”
DACA recipient Emili Prado, legal coordinator of the immigration group, La Colmena, said that “throughout this entire pandemic, I have seen how the immigrant community has been left behind, including my parents who are still undocumented.
“As a DACA recipient, as an essential worker that has been on the front lines providing services to the immigrant community in Staten Island (New York), Joe Biden must keep his promises and provide a pathway to citizenship to our immigrant community who have lifted the city of New York,” she said.
Linda Sarsour, co-founder and executive director of MPower, an immigration advocacy group in New York, said “it was the collective work of Muslims and our allies that led President Biden to commit to repealing the Muslim Ban.”
But she said, “while we welcome this critical move, we know it’s not enough”.
She added: “We don’t want to just go back to four years ago,” Sarsour said. “We want to ensure true transformative change for all immigrant communities through immediate actions like a deportation moratorium and freeing our people from ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) prisons.”
Soon after he was inaugurated on Wednesday, as the new US president, Biden signed a White House Executive Order proclaiming an end to “discriminatory bans on entry to the United States”.
“The United States was built on a foundation of religious freedom and tolerance, a principle enshrined in the United States Constitution,” the proclamation reads. “Nevertheless, the previous Administration enacted a number of executive orders and presidential proclamations that prevented certain individuals from entering the United States — first from primarily Muslim countries, and later, from largely African countries.
“Those actions are a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all,” it adds. “Beyond contravening our values, these executive orders and proclamations have undermined our national security. They have jeopardised our global network of alliances and partnerships and are a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over. And they have separated loved ones, inflicting pain that will ripple for years to come. They are just plain wrong.
“Make no mistake, where there are threats to our nation, we will address them,” the proclamation continued. “Where there are opportunities to strengthen information-sharing with partners, we will pursue them. And when visa applicants request entry to the United States, we will apply a rigorous, individualised vetting system. But we will not turn our backs on our values with discriminatory bans on entry into the United States.”
Biden also proclaimed the resumption of visa processing and clearing the backlog of cases in waiver processing, ordering the US secretary of state to direct all embassies and consulates, “consistent with applicable law and visa processing procedures, including any related to the coronavirus disease, to resume visa processing in a manner consistent with the revocation of the executive order and proclamations”.
He also ordered the secretary of state to provide him a report, within 45 days, the number of visa applicants who were being considered for a waiver of restrictions, a proposal to ensure that individuals whose immigrant visa applications were denied on the basis of the suspension and restriction to have their applications reconsidered, and a plan to ensure that visa applicants are “not prejudiced as a result of a previous visa denial due to the suspension and restriction”.
In addition, the new US president asked the secretaries of state and homeland security, in consultation with the director of national intelligence, to furnish him, within 120 days of the date of the proclamation, a description of the current screening and vetting procedures for those seeking immigrant and nonimmigrant entry to the US; and a review of foreign government information-sharing practices vis-à-vis the US “in order to evaluate the efficacy of those practices, their contribution to processes for screening and vetting those individuals seeking entry to the United States as immigrants and nonimmigrants, and how the United States ensures the accuracy and reliability of the information provided by foreign governments”.
Biden also ordered the secretaries of state to provide him, within 120 days, recommendations to improve screening and vetting activities, including diplomatic efforts to improve international information-sharing, use of foreign assistance funds, where appropriate, to support capacity building for information-sharing and identity-management practices, and ways to further integrate relevant executive department and agency data into the vetting system.
In early December, New York Attorney General Letitia James scored another major court victory for hundreds of thousands of Caribbean and other “Dreamers” across the United States who are eligible for DACA and who were at risk of deportation by the Trump Administration.
Judge Nicholas G Garaufis of the US District Court in Brooklyn, New York issued a remedial order granting James’ request for partial summary judgement.
He ordered the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reopen the DACA programme to first-time applicants; restore protections to a two-year period, instead of one year; and make advanced parole available to DACA recipients again without restrictions.
“The court believes that these additional remedies are reasonable,” wrote Judge Garaufis in his decision. “Indeed, the Government has assured the court that a public notice along the lines described is forthcoming.
“Plaintiffs have thoughtfully addressed the subject of accrual of unlawful presence in their Memorandum and Reply,” he added. “The court takes seriously any collateral consequence that may arise as a result of the unlawful Wolf Memorandum. However, the court declines to enter an ex-ante declaration on that issue at this time.
“The court reserves the right to impose further remedies if they become necessary,” Judge Garaufis continued. “Accordingly, the court retains jurisdiction of the matter for purposes of construction, modification and enforcement of this Order. So ordered.”
In response, a delighted James told CMC: “Justice prevailed today – not just for ‘Dreamers’ but for all Americans.
“Every time the outgoing Administration tried to use young immigrants as political scapegoats, they defiled the values of our nation,” she said. “The court’s order makes clear that fairness, inclusion and compassion matter.
“America is where these young people have gone to school, where they have worked, where they have paid taxes, where they have raised families, and where they have continued to be vital members of our communities,” James added. “We are proud to fight for them and grateful to deliver them the justice they are due.”
She noted that Dreamers are foreign-born young people who came to the United States at a young age and now identify as Americans.
“Most have no memory of or connection with the country where they were born, and many don’t speak any language other than English,” James said.
After the US Supreme Court ruled in June last that the Trump Administration’s attempts to cancel DACA were unlawful, the programme was supposed to resume.
Instead, DHS announced that new DACA applications would not be granted and that the acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, had made other interim changes to DACA through a memorandum issued on July 28, while Wolf considered whether to fully rescind DACA.
In August, James co-led a coalition of 17 attorneys general in two filings against President Donald J. Trump, the DHS, Wolf, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, asking the court to vacate the Wolf memo as unlawful.
In November, a US federal district court issued an order granting James’ request for partial summary judgement, ruling that Wolf was not lawfully serving as acting secretary of homeland security at the time.
Under US immigration law before the DACA programme, most “Dreamers” had no protection against deportation, even though they had lived most their lives in the US.
Since 2012, James said more than 825,000 young people who were brought to America at a young age were promised that if they came out of the shadows, they could legally work, study, serve in the military and raise families in the United States without fear of arrest or deportation.
After President Trump ordered his administration to change the policy in 2017 and break the promises made to these “Dreamers”, a prolonged legal battle began in September 2017 that made its way through multiple courts before landing, in a combined case, at the US Supreme Court.
In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration’s attempt to cancel the DACA programme was “arbitrary” and “capricious”, and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.
Despite the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of DACA, the late July memo by Wolf ordered DHS to reject all new initial DACA applications, to change the renewal period for current beneficiaries from two years to one year and to reject all advance parole applications absent exceptional circumstances.
The Wolf memo also purported to apply these changes retroactively to all applications submitted after June 18 – the date of the US Supreme Court decision.
In November, the court found that the Wolf memo was invalid, stating that Wolf has never lawfully served in the role of acting secretary of Homeland Security because his assumption of that role violated DHS’s order of succession.
In December, the court granted the coalition’s request for remedy, vacating the Wolf memo and reinstating the terms governing the DACA programme to those in place prior to the attempted rescission in September 2017.
Furthermore, the court ordered that DHS accept first-time requests for deferred action under DACA within three days, as well as extend one-year deferred action and employment authorisations to two-years.
New York Attorney General James thanked the National Immigration Law Center, Make the Road New York, and the Yale Law School Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic for their partnership in the court fight.
Joining James in co-leading the coalition of attorneys general was Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
The three were joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.