Posted on February 1, 2021

Biden’s Promise of Immigration Reform Raises Hopes in Latin America

Kirk Semple, New York Times, January 28, 2021

They had survived for months in a dusty encampment near the Mexican bank of the Rio Grande, relying on donated food and tents, exposed to the elements and the constant threat of crime.

The American border, always in sight, stood as both a beacon and a taunt. The migrants had requested refuge there, but had been sent back by the administration of former President Donald J. Trump and told to wait in Mexico.

So, with President Biden now in the White House, migrants who had wept with joy and relief at his election hoped he would transform immigration policy and improve their chances of getting into the United States.

But only days into Mr. Biden’s term, many of those same migrants have already grown impatient, their optimism souring to disappointment.


The impatience is a reflection of the soaring demand for relief among migrants amid an economically crippling pandemic and after four years of efforts by the Trump administration to choke off both legal and illegal immigration to the United States.

It is also an indication of the magnitude of the challenge facing the Biden administration, which has sought to temper the expectations and pent-up frustration of migrants and their advocates, and avert a flood of migration to the southwest border.

“He’s our only hope,” said Gabriela, 28, a Bolivian asylum seeker who has been stuck in the camp for more than a year. She requested that she be identified by only her first name because she and her 3-year-old son were fleeing death threats.

“With Trump there was no hope,” she continued. “Everything was going backward, backward, backward.”

Mr. Biden raised expectations in the Matamoros camp and elsewhere by running on pledges to swiftly reverse many of Mr. Trump’s most restrictive migration policies, including ending a program, popularly known as “Remain in Mexico,” that has forced tens of thousands of migrants to wait in the country while their cases are pending in American immigration court.

The new president wasted no time. On his first day in office, he unveiled immigration reform legislation that would create a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who were in the United States before the start of 2021. This measure, if it passes, would be perhaps the most ambitious immigration redesign since 1986, when then President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill giving legal status to three million immigrants.

Mr. Biden also signed a wave of executive orders that, among other aims, halted construction of the border wall and repealed a ban on travel to the United States from several predominantly Muslim countries.

Although he did not end the Remain in Mexico program — or say what would happen to those who were stuck in Mexico — he suspended it.

On Friday, Mr. Biden is expected to issue several more executive orders to expand legal immigration, restore the asylum system and enhance the refugee processing system.

But despite the quick action, Mr. Biden and his advisers have been careful about communicating that he wants to avoid moving too fast.

Officials fear that major policy changes enacted hastily could inspire a huge surge of migrants to the southwest border, overwhelming American enforcement and asylum-processing resources.


With lockdowns easing in recent months, northbound migration from Central America and elsewhere has been accelerating, with many trying to make it to the United States border and some hoping that with Mr. Biden in office, they stand a better chance of getting in.

An enormous caravan of migrants, numbering as many as 7,000, that set off from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, earlier this month before being broken up by Guatemalan security forces was the most obvious expression of this need and hope. But the uptick is also being felt in smaller ways, including growing numbers of migrants filling shelters along the traditional migratory routes.