At around 10:48 a.m. Central Time on January 20, 2021, America turned a page. The United States inaugurated our first Madam Vice President, Kamala Harris, who was sworn in by the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor. Madam Vice President Harris is the first Black and first Indian American to hold that office in the 245-year history of this nation. She is also the daughter of two immigrants – mother from India, father from Jamaica – who came to the United States to pursue higher education and went on to become scientist and professor. That morning, America also witnessed the peaceful transition of power from one administration to another, which almost might not happen had the insurgents who caused the deadly riot storming the Capitol had their way. The four years of cruel and chaotic Trump Administration finally ended.
American turned a page on this day because President Biden unequivocally named white supremacy as a challenge that we must confront and defeat. He also declared “A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.” He gave meaning to his words by making his first executive act on Day One the signing of the “Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” He did not stop there. He proceeded to sign seven proclamations and executive orders that protect immigrant rights. He revoked Trump’s Muslim and African ban that had separated thousands of families; he revoked Trump’s interior immigration enforcement policies that had terrorized immigrant communities throughout the past four years; he declared that question of citizenship has no place in decennial Census counts; he stopped the construction of the border wall; he extended immigration protection for Liberians to allow them time to apply for lawful permanent residency; and he preserved and fortified immigration protection for DREAMers, protecting more than 200,000 immigrants, majority of whom people of color, who came to the U.S. as children. He also directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to end new enrollment in the “Remain in Mexico” program and to begin releasing immigrants detained in ICE detention. Little noticed is that DHS did not use the term “aliens” in either memoranda but refer to them as “non-citizens.”
For immigrant advocates who had toiled exhaustingly on the defensive over the past four years to combat the Trump Administration’s racist, xenophobic, cruel, and inhumane immigration policies that separated children from their families, jailed immigrants to enrich private industrial complex, expelled asylum-seekers to deadly border camps, denied immigrants due process, encouraged administrative practice of random acts of cruelty, the Biden Administration finally allows us to take a breath. In the Biden Immigration Plan, there is a pathway to citizenship for 11 million long-term residents who are without lawful immigration status, reinstatement of prosecutorial discretion, action to promote family unity by reducing backlog, removing the unlawful presence three- and ten-year bars, and give asylum-seekers more time to file for asylum.
It is about time that the U.S. ends the more than century-old racist immigration policy and moves to adopt one that honors and treats immigrants with dignity. The Biden Plan provides the beginning of this possibility.
The Collaborative plays a critical convening, coordinating, and communication role in the legal services community. Through our work, more immigrants are receiving low-cost, high-quality legal services for immigration issues in Houston. Our work has become even more urgent in 2019, as the policy environment in which we work becomes increasingly hostile to immigrants. We have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for immigration legal services and education & outreach efforts in Houston’s diverse immigrant communities.