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Panelists disappointed in lack of progress on immigration

Immigration experts recently expressed disappointment with President Joe Biden for not working fast enough or going far enough to improve the nation’s immigration system.

ABA Social Justice Policy panelists shared concerns that new deportation guidelines give ICE officials wide discretion with insufficient guidance.

ABA Social Justice Policy panelists shared concerns that new deportation guidelines give ICE officials wide discretion with insufficient guidance.

The remarks came during an American Bar Association webinar Dec. 9. The program — “Policy Update: Where Are We on Immigration?” — was part of the ABA’s Social Justice Policy Summit, hosted by the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.

One professor — Karen Musalo of the University of California, Hastings College of Law — criticized the administration for not reversing a Trump policy popularly known as Title 42. It prevents many asylum-seekers from entering the United States at the Mexican border because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Musalo blamed some Biden advisers for telling the president that it would be politically damaging to reverse this policy. “The Biden administration is taking a position that is politically wrong and morally bankrupt,” she said.

Musalo credited Biden for campaigning strongly in 2020 against Trump immigration policies, saying his campaign rhetoric was “quite powerful,” but said his actions as president have been disappointing. She also criticized Biden for his actions on the Remain in Mexico policy. Begun by President Donald Trump, it forces immigrants and asylum-seekers to wait across the border while their cases are pending in U.S. immigration courts.

Biden reversed Remain in Mexico soon after taking office, but a federal judge overturned that action and ordered Biden to resume the policy. The policy began again in December. Biden’s attempt to end Remain in Mexico was “a little half-hearted,” Musalo said, and while a Biden memo on ending the program was strongly worded, “The Biden administration can’t be totally trusted on the sincerity of these words.”

Moderator Engy Abdelkader, a visiting assistant professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, blamed “conservative courts” for not allowing the Biden administration to end Remain in Mexico. She accused the courts of “subverting the public’s will” on immigration.

“Biden won the popular vote,” Abdelkader said, “He was voted in; he campaigned on terminating this policy. And yet despite what the American people voted for we have conservative courts — many judges who were, in fact, put in place by the Trump administration — subverting that will.”

Another law professor, Elora Mukherjee of Columbia University, praised Biden for several actions: extending temporary protected status for immigrants from nine countries, reversing Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, and announcing it would no longer hold families seeking asylum in detention for long periods. “That is a very welcome development,” she said of the latter policy.

But she criticized the administration for not allowing independent monitors to inspect detention centers where immigrant children are being held. Advocates “had hoped for more,” she said.

A fourth panelist, Philip Torrey, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, said he is concerned about new immigration guidelines for deportations. They are an improvement over Trump guidelines, he said, but they give ICE officials wide discretion with insufficient guidance.

Torrey said immigration detention numbers under Biden have been “a profound disappointment.” The average number of immigrants in daily federal detention under Biden is 22,000 as of Oct. 1, he said.

Video of the program is available online here.

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