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Biden-Harris Administration Making Strides; Yet Much More Needed on Immigration Reform

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following President Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project and Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative released the following statements. 

On pathways to citizenship

“While the Biden-Harris administration has taken some encouraging steps, it’s time to fully embrace immigration reform and the undoing of the cruelty and chaos of the past,” said Efrén Olivares, deputy legal director of the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “Our communities cannot afford more of the same capitulating to xenophobic rhetoric, and we must not be deterred by bad faith efforts to demonize immigrants. This is the year to finally deliver a pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth, TPS recipients, farmworkers, and essential workers.”

On rebuilding the asylum system 

“While phase one of the wind down of the disastrous Remain in Mexico policy is commendable, more action is needed,” said Melissa Crow, SPLC senior supervising attorney. “The administration must expand this effort to ensure that everyone affected by this policy has a meaningful opportunity to present their asylum claims – including people who received removal orders without being able to attend their hearings and those whose cases were terminated.”

“In addition, the Biden-Harris administration has continued the disastrous Title 42 policy, expelling hundreds of thousands of people seeking protection without due process and into harm’s way,” continued Crow. “By continuing Title 42 expulsions, the U.S. has abandoned its domestic and international legal obligations to provide access to the asylum system. These expulsions have only fueled the humanitarian crisis at the border and put migrants’ lives in greater jeopardy.”

On ICE detention and enforcement 

“Despite promising to end the use of private detention facilities for immigrant detention, the administration has yet to release concrete plans to address the dehumanizing ICE detention machine,” said Anjali Nair, interim director of SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative. “In recent weeks, the population of ICE prisons has increased due to the continued practice of placing people seeking asylum into ICE custody instead of granting them release. Immigrant detention is immoral, unnecessary, and costs taxpayers billions of dollars for the profit of private prison operators. This system is an ongoing human rights crisis of the government’s own making, and it must end.” 

“Despite the administration’s attempts to pause deportations, the overly broad enforcement discretion granted to ICE has led to continued targeting and deportations of community members,” said Neyissa Desir, SPLC outreach paralegal. “Additionally, the Biden-Harris administration has yet to redesignate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for many, including Haitian immigrants. Haitian families continue to be deported or expelled, despite the ongoing political instability in Haiti. This is immoral and anti-Black, and it must stop.”

On migrant children

“While it’s positive that the administration has reduced the number of children in CBP facilities in recent weeks, the temporary influx facilities are still no place for a child,” said Luz Lopez, SPLC senior supervising attorney. “The administration cannot continue to rely on more facilities as the primary solution. It should instead be directing resources to desperately needed case managers and social workers. Now is the time to reimagine this system and invest in the capacity for sponsor programs that do not rely on large detention facilities. Only then will we begin to treat each child with the dignity and care they deserve.” 

On family separation 

“The task force must move more quickly to reunite families," said Norma Ventura, SPLC staff attorney. "But that won't be enough. The administration must create a victim compensation fund for the more than 5,500 families who were separated at the border. The government should also offer immigration benefits to these children and parents, many of whom relinquished their asylum claims because government officials led them to believe that doing so would speed their reunification.”

On immigrant workers 

“There is much work to be done to protect immigrant workers, including the millions of immigrant farmworkers, poultry workers, and other essential workers,” said Meredith Stewart, SPLC senior supervising attorney. “We’re disappointed the Labor Department has taken so long to issue the critical Emergency Temporary Standard that was expected in March. Immigrant workers, many of whom work in already dangerous workplace conditions, need safety standards on the job. The Biden-Harris administration must take aggressive action to strengthen workplace protections so that every worker can make their living with dignity.”