Immigration attorneys, Houston mother hopeful for more policy changes from Biden administration

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) feels hopeful as the Biden administration signed new executive orders on immigration on Tuesday. 

The White House says the orders aim to create a taskforce to reunify families. As of November 2020, more than 600 children are estimated to still be seperated from the families as a result of the previous administration's zero tolerance policy that began in 2017. The orders also seek to address the irregular migration system across the southern border, create a humane asylum system, and restore faith in the legal immigration system.

"The Trump administration had made nearly 1000 changes that affected immigration directly," noted Ruby Powers, an immigration attorney in Houston. 
Powers traveled to the southern border multiple times as a new Trump era program, Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which began to stop asylum seekers from entering the U.S. in 2019.

It forced the migrants, most fleeing violence in Central America, to wait in Mexico. It became known as the remain in Mexico program. 

"When I was in Tijuana, one person told me, 'The people who I'm fleeing from know where I am, and I can't go to the shelter,'" Powers recalled. "And, he was waiting for his day to be able to be metered into the United States."

President Biden announced his administration would review MPP and signaled its gradual reversal.

Powers believes it is the first step in making the asylum process more humane and fair, but Biden needs to go further to make any dent in the immigration court backlogs.

"I have clients that are waiting 5 years for affirmative asylum. I have court cases that are waiting maybe 7 years depending on where it was sped up or slowed down," Powers noted.

Immigrant advocates also feel President Biden needs to address visa bans imposed by the Trump administration last April, June, and December.

"These three proclamations that Trump signed banned all immigrant visas -- that's family based immigrant visas and employment based immigrant visas," said Esther Sung, Senior Counsel with Justice Action Center

The organization represents Carmen Vidal Pimentel, a Houston woman, whose husband has not been able to meet his newborn son. Sung says his visa was approved but the process came to screeching halt when Trump signed the first ban in April.

In a video by the organization, she says she worries what will happen to her son if she died during birth. 

The boy was born in August. His father remains in the Dominican Republic.

"These bans represent an attempt to shutdown legal immigration to the United States. They're not COVID-related," added Sung. 

Experts estimate former President Trump cut legal immigration to the U.S. in half. 

"The repercussions are compounding becuase of the backlogs to the immigration system that it's going to take years to rectify all of the problems that these immigrations policies have caused," Sung concluded.