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Biden aims to rebuild and expand legal immigration

WASHINGTON – If President Biden is successful, it will soon be much easier to immigrate to the United States. There will be shorter and simpler forms and applicants will have to cross fewer security barriers. Foreigners will have a better chance of reuniting with their families and more chances of obtaining work visas.

A 46-page draft plan obtained by the New York Times describes the Biden administration’s plans to significantly expand the legal immigration system, including methodically reversing the dismantling efforts of former President Donald J. Trump, who reduced the flow of foreign workers, families and refugees, erecting procedural barriers more difficult to cross than its “big and beautiful wall”.

Due to Mr. Trump’s immigration policies, the average time taken to approve employer-sponsored green cards has doubled. The backlog of citizenship applications has increased 80% since 2014, to over 900,000 cases. Approval for the U-visa program, which grants legal status to immigrants willing to help the police, has been reduced from five months to about five years.

In almost every case over the past four years, immigrating to the United States has become more difficult, more expensive, and takes longer.

And while Mr. Biden has made it clear during his presidential campaign that he intends to undo much of his predecessor’s immigration legacy, the plan offers new details on the scale of the effort – not only to roll back Mr. Trump’s policies, but also to clear the backlogs. and the delays that plagued former presidents.

The plan, dated May 3 and titled “DHS Plan to Restore Confidence in Our Legal Immigration System,” lists dozens of initiatives to reopen the country to more immigrants, keeping the president’s promise. ‘Ensuring America embraces its “character as a nation of opportunity and welcome.”

“Significant changes need to be made to truly open all avenues of legal immigration,” said Felicia Escobar Carrillo, chief of staff of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, of efforts to reverse the Mr. Trump’s program. “In the same way that they took a broad approach to closing the avenues, I think we want to take a broad approach to opening the legal avenues that have always been available but that they tried to put roadblocks on.”

Since taking office four months ago, Mr Biden has struggled with a historic surge in the migration of children and adolescents from Central America that has prompted some Republicans to accuse the president of opening the borders from the country to people trying to enter the country illegally, a charge the White House dismisses.

In fact, Mr. Biden wants to open the country to more immigrants. Its ambition, as evidenced by the master plan, is to rebuild and expand the possibilities for foreigners to enter the United States – but to do so legally.

Divided into seven sections, the document offers detailed policy proposals that would help more foreigners settle in the United States, including highly skilled workers, victims of trafficking, families of Americans living abroad. , American Indians born in Canada, refugees, asylum seekers and farmers. Immigrants who apply online may pay less or even get a waiver in an attempt to “lower the barriers” to immigration. And the regulations would be revised to “encourage the full participation of immigrants in our civic life.”

Even with a more restrictive and slower immigration system, around 1 million people were granted green cards in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. Most had been waiting for years. In the last year of the Obama administration, 1.2 million people received green cards.

But if Mr. Biden accomplishes everything in the document, he will have gone further than just reversing the downtrend. There will be considerably more opportunities for foreigners from around the world to come to the United States, embracing robust immigration even as a decades-long divisive political debate continues to rage over such a policy.

Most of the changes could be put into practice without passing Mr Biden’s proposed overhaul of the country’s immigration laws, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented migrants living in the states. United, but stuck in a bitterly divided Congress. While polls show most Americans support increased immigration, many Republican voters have enthusiastically backed Mr. Trump’s more restrictive policies.

White House officials declined to comment directly on the Department of Homeland Security’s plan, saying such documents were subject to many drafts and decisions on specific steps to tackle legal immigration remained in the works. But they said the president remains committed to significantly rolling back restrictions imposed by his predecessor.

This effort will take time and has yet to gain public attention like the wave of crossings at the southwest border. But conservative activists who have been calling for lower levels of legal immigration for years are vowing to fight to stop Mr Biden and get a political price for his actions.

“They just want to push people here,” said Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a former attorney general in Virginia who served as acting director of citizenship and immigration services under Mr. Trump. “They are not running an immigration system for the benefit of America, and certainly not for the benefit of ordinary Americans. “

Most research has shown that legal immigration to the United States has benefits for the country’s economy, especially at a time when the country’s population growth is slowing. But Mr Cuccinelli and others who favor tough immigration restrictions say it’s obvious to them that letting foreigners compete for jobs – especially when the country is still recovering from an economic downturn like the one created by the pandemic – will hurt Americans’ prospects. citizens.

“The number one job of immigration services is to make sure that immigration doesn’t harm Americans,” said Roy Beck, founder of NumbersUSA, a group dedicated to much lower levels of legal immigration.

Motivated by this conviction, Mr. Cuccinelli set in motion a transformation of the government’s legal immigration system under the Trump administration – changing his agency from an agency that confers benefits on foreigners to a “control agency,” in part by issuing numerous restrictions on the offer of asylum. for immigrants and trying to raise fees.

The increased screening, along with the travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic, contributed to the outcome the Trump administration is seeking: the influx of immigrants has slowed significantly, as obtaining legal permission to enter the states. -Unis was getting much more difficult.

With fewer immigrants arriving in the pipeline, there has been less money to fund citizenship and immigration services, which are almost entirely funded by fees paid by immigrants. Restoring the agency to full capacity is at the heart of Mr Biden’s efforts to expand legal immigration, according to the document and interviews with administration officials.

A central element of the master plan is to address the backlogs in the immigration system.

The administration plans to speed up immigration applications by expanding virtual interviews and electronic filing, as well as limiting evidence requests from applicants. Mr Biden called on Cass R. Sunstein, a former Obama administration official and Harvard Law School lawyer, to redo the immigration system so that it is “more efficient and less restrictive” than it is. has been for decades by “reducing paperwork and other administrative requirements.” “

Mr Biden wants to restore opportunities for foreign employees through the existing H-1B visa program, which is aimed at workers with particular skills. The administration also intends to create new avenues for foreign entrepreneurs who wish to “start businesses and create jobs for American workers,” according to the document.

Authorities are working on a regulation that could allow migrants to obtain asylum in the United States if they are victims of domestic violence or if their loved ones are persecuted. During Trump’s day, Attorney General William P. Barr decided to end asylum protection for those who claimed to deserve it for these reasons.

Mr Biden also aims to expand immigration options for LGBTQ refugees from countries where they are persecuted or where same-sex marriages are not recognized.

In addition, he wants to revamp a program that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who assist law enforcement by cooperating with the police or testifying in court.

The waitlist for the U-Visa program has swelled, leaving victims of crime and survivors of domestic violence vulnerable to abusers who could threaten to report them for deportation if they continue to speak to police, Leslye E said. Orloff, director of the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project at American University.

The Biden administration plans to extend protections to cooperating immigrants even before they are on the official visa waiting list, according to the document.

“They recognize that there is a danger to these victims,” ​​said Orloff.

Critics say the Biden administration is ignoring the negative consequences of its efforts. The H-1B program has been attacked as a loophole for tech companies to import cheap foreign workers to fight for jobs. Granting asylum to victims of domestic violence could open the door to the acceptance of millions more. And some Republicans say Mr Biden should not relax control of aliens, although officials insist they will continue to track down terrorists and other threats.

As the Biden administration pushes the changes forward, officials appear willing to use emergency rules and presidential memos to avoid the lengthy regulatory process, in the same way Mr. Trump has set up his own. program. But it could subject Mr Biden’s immigration legacy to a similar overthrow by a Republican president in the future.

“The question hanging over all of this work is how to do this in a way that isn’t as easy to capsize next time around,” said Doug Rand, founder of Boundless Immigration, a Seattle-based tech company that helps immigrants to become ecological. cards and citizenship.

The change couldn’t come soon enough for Jenn Hawk, 37, who currently lives with her Argentinian husband in Poland, where he works, even though her autistic son is in the Washington area with his father.

Due to delays in processing her husband’s immigration application, she is faced with a choice: stay in Poland with the man she married, or return to the United States alone to be with her son. 10 years.

Ms Hawk applied to sponsor her husband’s immigration to the United States in October 2020, spending $ 575 on the application. But they face a delay of over a year and a half before they can even submit their financial and medical information, let alone get an interview with an immigration officer.

“I just want to come home,” Ms. Hawk said. “It looks like they’re doing everything in their power to prevent this from being a possibility.”

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