Joe Biden’s immediate efforts to reverse Donald Trump’s hardline US immigration policies have been hit and miss in the first week of his presidency. While his executive order to revoke Trump’s zero tolerance policy, responsible for the separation of thousands of families at the US-Mexico border, Biden’s 100-day deportation pause has been blocked by a federal court.
According to a report published by The Guardian, Monty Wilkinson, the acting US attorney general, had issued a new Department of Justice (DoJ) memo to federal prosecutors across America stating the Biden administration would ‘return to its longstanding previous policy.’
The memo instructed prosecutors to act on the merits of individual cases where migrants have entered the US illegally.
Wilkinson said that the DoJ’s principles have ‘long-emphasized that decisions about bringing charges against illegal immigrants should not only be based on whether a federal offense has been committed and that the admissible evidence is sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction, but should account for individualized factors.
The US attorney general said personal circumstances, criminal history, the seriousness of the offense, the likely sentence and other consequences of a conviction should also be factored in when making decisions on whether to prosecute.
Under Trump’s zero tolerance US immigration policy, any person caught crossing the border illegally would be prosecuted for unlawful entry.
However, because children could not be imprisoned with their family members, parents and children were split into different types of detention. Minors were taken into custody by the US Health and Human Services Department, which manages unaccompanied children at the border.
The zero tolerance policy sparked criticism from a number of immigrant rights’ groups and world leaders.
The end of the zero tolerance US immigration policy has been described as ‘symbolic’ because it undoes the Trump administration’s highly controversial practice of separating families. Statistics show that more than 5,500 children have been taken from their parents at the US southern border with Mexico.
Not many families have been prosecuted under the policy since 2018, when large-scale separations ended, but the practice of splitting families continued on a smaller scale.
While Biden has issued an executive order targeting a reversal of many of Trump’s inflammatory immigration policies, the general consensus is that it will take time to undo the damage, given the scale of how much the US immigration landscape was changed by the previous administration.
Under the zero tolerance policy, many parents split from their children were deported. Immigrant rights’ campaigners have urged the Biden administration to allow those families affected to reunite.
In 2018, Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was determined to restrict immigration to the US. The zero tolerance policy was just one of many restrictive measures introduced to deter immigrants from traveling to the southern border.
Trump greatly reduced the number of refugees allowed to enter the US and practically ended asylum at the border with a series of executive orders and regulation changes.
The policy has been dubbed a disaster, particularly because there was no system in place to reunite children with their parents and even now, many families remain separated.
According to a report by the DoJ’s inspector general, released earlier this month, the policy has led to a $227 million funding shortfall.
Deportation pause blocked
However, while President Biden has successfully managed to end the zero tolerance policy, his 100-day deportation moratorium didn’t fare so well after a federal judge blocked the order. The pause on deportation is a key US immigration priority for Biden.
US district judge, Drew Tipton, ruled that a deportation pause could not stand and issued a temporary restraining order after the state of Texas sued the Biden administration.
Judge Tipton said: “The Biden administration has failed to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations.”
Throughout his presidential election campaign, Biden vowed to halt most deportations for at least 100 days.
The block on deportation pauses represents a win for Republican leaders in Texas, who regularly sued to prevent executive orders issued by former US President, Barack Obama.
The victory also highlights that just as Democratic-led states and immigration groups fought back against Trump’s US immigration policies in court – successfully in most cases – Republicans will make life difficult for Biden.
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