Biden to Reverse Trump’s Immigration Policies, Georgetown Professor Predicts

Woman holding American flag in the air.

As president, Joe Biden is expected to make far-reaching changes to U.S. immigration policy, reversing President Trump’s nativist agenda by increasing legal immigration, restoring the rights of people seeking asylum, and expanding DACA, the federal program that enables young people brought to this country as children to become U.S. citizens, an authority on immigration said.

“In the last four years, there has just been an enormous amount of work that the Trump administration has done to reduce overall levels of migration and essentially shut down many of the mechanisms by which people came into the United States,” said Katharine Donato, Ph.D., Director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM) in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “The takedown of the U.S. immigration system has been deep, wide-ranging, and dramatic, so there’s a lot of opportunity now to redress that situation and improve it.” 

Many of the myriad changes, large and small, that the Trump administration has implemented were done under the radar, Donato said. Even one of the administration's most widely reported policies, the separation of minor children from their parents at the Mexican border, which was announced in April 2018 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was later revealed to have started a year earlier, affecting many more children than previously thought. 

Other less visible changes are discovered by immigration attorneys after the fact.

“They are typically the first ones to learn about new government practices, but there’s no public announcement. They learn about new rules for the competition of asylum paperwork after their clients’ applications have been rejected,” Donato said. “And when they go back through it, they figure it out.”

Movement on DACA, TPS

While Biden is expected to reverse many of the policy changes the Trump Administration made at the border, most of those may have little impact as long as the coronavirus pandemic is spreading, Donato said. In March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Homeland Security took measures at the border that allows the federal government to turn back migrants at the border for public health reasons. While the order has aided Trump’s restrictive border policies and has been criticized by immigrant rights groups, Donato said that a Biden administration is not expected to rescind it as long as the pandemic is spreading.

Two areas where a Biden administration will have more immediate impact are DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants permitted to stay in the United States after earthquakes and other hardships, which the Trump administration was allowing to expire, Donato said. She said Biden is expected to reverse this decision.

“Those with TPS are Salvadorans, Haitians, but also others who have been here for decades, and they’re currently scheduled to be deported in 2021,” said Donato, who is the Donald G. Herzberg Professor of International Migration.

A More Welcoming Nation

Regarding DACA, the Trump administration recently barred new applicants to sign up for the program, but its efforts to terminate DACA were blocked in June 2020 by a 5-4 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. Donato expects a Biden administration to begin taking new DACA applications again.

Finally, Donato expects the number of refugees admitted to the United States under Biden to return to pre-Trump Administration levels, which, while not extraordinary given the size of the world’s refugee population, were greater than refugees resettled in the rest of the world combined.

In 2016, according to “The Economist,” the United States “resettled 96,900 people fleeing persecution, war or other violence; [all] other countries admitted 92,400. But under President Donald Trump, America has become far less welcoming. Last year it took in only 22,900 refugees, 5,200 fewer than neighbouring Canada, which has a population only one-tenth as big.”

In addition to her work with ISIM and the School of Foreign Service, Donato runs—through Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies—the Certificate in International Migration Studies, which can take between six months and three years to complete, depending on the number of courses taken each semester. The certificate program offers professionals from a variety of sectors a national and global context for understanding immigration and migration issues.