Cautiously Optimistic When Looking Ahead At Biden Immigration Proposal

As we enter the era of the Biden administration, many people are feeling optimistic about immigration over the next four years. So much so that as we speak there are 6000 Honduran immigrants at the border of Guatamala hoping to enter the US for a better chance in the land of the free.

Despite the trials of this last year, the US is the greatest country on earth (just ask my clients who continue to apply to live here from all over the world), and I have faith that we will persevere through adversity. But I am more cautious when it comes to believing the rhetoric of any president around immigration. Plain and simple: the Trump administration was tough on immigration. But as I have said many times before, the Obama administration was tough in different ways.

Optimism on Immigration in 2021 Tempered With Caution

First off, it takes more than optimism to remove the executive orders that went through under Trump. This worked in the favor of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers when Trump tried but failed to extinguish DACA. It can be a time-consuming process to get laws changed – as it should be.

Also, remember that even Obama promised comprehensive immigration reform with a majority in Congress in first term. Never happened. I reserve judgment after 25 years exclusively practicing immigration law. Obama deported 400,000 more people in his first four years than Trump did.

In my career, working with the immigration system, I have never seen any president follow though on all of his promises.

We are coming off of a very tough stretch – enforcement minded, zero tolerance rules (frequently struck down by federal courts) that did less to help this country and more to just clog up an already defective system.

No matter who is at the helm, you do not need to be afraid. There is often a way to help someone legally become a part of the US – even with challenges like those in our most recent history.

With that said, Biden and Harris are talking positively regarding immigration – about making changes that could affect the lives of millions  of immigrants in the US. Here’s what could be coming up under the Biden administration for immigration to the United States.

What are Biden & Harris Promising Regarding Immigration?

  1. Decreased Wait Times: Decreasing wait time for time required to acquire U.S. citizenship by making the naturalization process more efficient.
  2. Adding Immigration Judges to Decrease Backlogs – a shortage of judges was one of the ways that Trump slowed down immigration during his tenure (although he added plenty of new ones, the backlogs grew even before the pandemic).
  3. Immediate Green Cards for DACA (Dreamers): The DACA program was under real threat by the Trump administration who tried to rescind it, affecting the lives of millions of youngsters in the United States. Now, Biden is saying that a pathway to green cards may be possible for Dreamers.  Read more about DACA here.
  4. Faster Track for those with Temporary Protection Status: a program that gives temporary status to hundreds of thousands of people from countries impacted by war, natural disaster and other life threatening conditions. Now, Biden is saying that a pathway to green cards may be possible for TPS holders. (see also: Supreme Court will rule on related TPS issue).
  5. Eliminating the 1-year asylum filing deadline.
  6. Eliminating the 3 and 10 year bars – this would be huge.
  7. Proposes to immediately rescind the Trump Administration’s immigration proclamations banning travel and immigration to the U.S., and to invite those who have been denied a visa to re-apply.
  8. Rescind the Trump Administration’s new Public Charge Rule, and work with U.S. lawmakers to ensure immigration laws are not used to discriminate against immigrants based on their wealth, race, country of origin, language abilities, sexual orientation, etc…
  9. Eliminate “performance” quotas for immigration judges.
  10. Prioritize family reunification by eliminating family-based green card backlogs and reforming the system to speed up family-based visas.


The last truly positive immigration reform was Bipartisan Amnesty under Reagan in 1986; we are long overdue for changes that will benefit immigrants — and in turn help the US.

I have seen the system fail to work properly far too often throughout my career, for a quarter century.

Immigrants in tech, health care, and other spaces (including first responders) have been essential in keeping the US going during COVID.

Time has come for smart immigration policy that will advance this nation in a host of ways.



Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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