Today is the 55th day of the Biden-Harris Administration, and we are already hearing acrimonious accusations from Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, charging the Administration for instigating migrant surge across the southern border. Instead of taking responsibility for his epic failure to protect and prepare Texans from the post-Valentine’s Day winter storms that put hundreds of thousands of Texans in the frigid cold with no electricity and, in many cases, no running water for days, Governor Abbott opted to divert attention by lifting the face-covering mandate and allowing business to operate at 100% capacity. His political choice could put Texas at risk of another COVID-19 surge, and he is already preparing a scapegoat: aiming at President Biden for rectifying the inhumane immigration policies of the past four years.

As he promised on the campaign trail, President Biden signed seven immigration-related executive orders and proclamations on day one of his administration to put humanity and dignity back in our immigration system. One of the Executive Orders ended the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. Officially put in place in January 2019, the MPP policy pushed asylum seekers from primarily Spanish-speaking countries back to Mexico to await their court date, which could be years into the future. Migrants, including families with young children, were forced to live in squalid and unsafe encampments across the border where cartel, kidnappers, and traffickers preyed on them. Many of the migrants had moved elsewhere in Mexico or returned to their home country, only around 10,000 remained in the border encampments out of the total of 26,000 who have active immigration cases under the MPP program when President Biden ended it on January 20, 2021.

Within a month of President Biden’s inauguration, on February 19, 2021, the U.S. government processed the first group of twenty-five asylum seekers at the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego. Dozens of legal and social service volunteers spanned across the Mexico and San Diego border at the crack of dawn to explain the process to the migrants and assist those who made it across to the U.S. Processing at the Matamoros encampment across from Brownsville took place the following week. Teams of lawyers and volunteers who have built trust with the residents of the encampment over the years assisted the several hundred migrants to be processed by the Customs and Border Protection to ensure that they have proper documents needed for onward travel and that no one was accidentally skipped over. All migrants must test negative of COVID-19 prior to entering the U.S. For the migrants who have been stuck in Matamoros for more than two years, February 25, 2021 marked the triumph of humanity – they had endured unfathomable odds to make it across to the U.S. to pursue their asylum claims.

Since January 2021, there have been more unaccompanied children, individual migrants and family units coming to the U.S. from the southern border as compared to last year. Some of them might have been repelled from the U.S. last year under the emergency public health order of the Trump Administration. Detaining asylum seekers, separating children from their families, building border walls and harsh immigration policies have not stopped and will not stop desperate people from fleeing violence and persecution. Until we address the root causes of migration, the flow of humanity across the southern border will continue. President Biden is taking the crucial first step in developing a plan to shore up civil society in sending countries and establishing a refugee process system closer to home so that migrants do not have to make the dangerous journey to the U.S.

Our border communities have been shouldering the load of caring for the migrants in the past few years; it is time that the Houston community step up to the plate to share the burden. At HILSC, we have been reaching out to the grassroots and faith communities to organize Team Houston Welcoming to support migrants coming to or passing through Houston. Your support will help us address their immediate social needs and legal needs in the near term.

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.

On September 22, 2018, the Trump Administration released proposed harmful changes to the “public charge” rule. These changes would strongly raise new high barriers for prospective lawful permanent residents if they are poor or have used government benefits like Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), Medicare’s Part D with prescription medication costs for seniors, or housing subsidies.