Only weeks away from Joe Biden’s inauguration into the Oval Office on Jan. 21, the country is keen to see if the president-elect will be faithful to his myriad campaign promises. Biden — who ran his campaign against the record of the incumbent president, Donald Trump — has explicitly stated his desire to reverse many decisions made by Trump’s administration. However, as the clock ticks toward the onset of his presidential term and more public statements come out regarding his wishes for his own administration, Biden has seemingly yielded on several commitments, particularly in regards to immigration reform and the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA).
Throughout Biden’s presidential campaign, he continuously vowed to immediately reinstate the DACA Act, which shields undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children from deportation. While the act protects them for about two years and allows them to legally work and attend school, it does not provide a pathway to citizenship.
The act has been riddled with controversy since its enactment by former president Barack Obama’s executive order in 2012 and Biden is inheriting its contentiousness with Capitol Hill.
Although only half of all Republicans oppose DACA, Trump promised to immediately terminate the program, starting as early as his presidential speech on June 16, 2015. Fulfilling his promise and citing the supposed unconstitutionality of the program, Trump officially ordered that DACA be rescinded and gave Congress six months to pass a bill that would save the policy. Multiple lawsuits challenged Trump’s decision, and his repeal of DACA was blocked by many judges in major cities such as New York City and Washington D.C., who required the program to continue despite legal issues (although DACA recipients could renew their applications every year, undocumented immigrants are still barred from applying).
While the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 opinion that the termination of the program was “arbitrary” and was not justified in its reasoning, many have argued for the pressing need to curate a long-term permanent legislative solution due to court cases now challenging different aspects of the program’s legality. The Supreme Court decision dealt with the Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA, and the current court case held under Judge Andrew Hansen of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas is challenging whether Obama had the constitutional power to create the program.
In this dire political climate in which many undocumented immigrants live in fear of restrictions to work and schooling and even possible future deportation, Biden’s promises to reinstate DACA were seen as providential.
On Twitter and Medium, Biden explicitly stated that he would restore the program on the very first day he came into office.
Here’s my promise to you: On day one, I’ll send a bill to Congress that creates a clear roadmap to citizenship for Dreamers and 11 million undocumented people who are already strengthening our nation. It’s long overdue.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 18, 2020
In Biden’s presidential candidacy acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in August, he reiterated his commitment to restoring the program: “If I’m elected president, we’re going to immediately end Trump’s assault on the dignity of immigrant communities. We’re going to restore our moral standing in the world and our historic role as a safe haven for refugees and asylum-seekers.”
Not only has Biden previously stated that he would restore DACA, but he has also promised to make DACA recipients newly eligible for federal student loans and Pell Grants, relieving the financial burden that would bar many from being able to attend higher education.
However, Biden has now stated that he will not immediately reverse Trump’s immigration restrictions with an executive order, but rather will, in the first 100 days, “send an immigration bill to the United States Senate with a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people in America.” While this seems promising, power in the U.S Senate currently lays in the hands of the Republican Party, which has 50 seats compared to Democrats’ 48 seats. The fate of the remaining two seats will be decided by two special elections in Georgia. If Republicans manage to control the Senate once more, it is likely that this bill will never pass through Congress to even be signed by the president.
Susan Rice, Biden’s pick to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council, expressed hesitation at the idea that immigration policy reversal could occur radically and practically overnight, stating that while many of the outgoing administration’s policies will be immediately reversed, “others would take time to implement.”
Famous member of the freshmen Congressional female powerhouse “The Squad” Ilhan Omar criticized the Biden team for already breaking a core campaign promise before even entering the Oval Office.
“This is a classic bait and switch,” she tweeted. “It perpetuates Trump’s dehumanization of migrants and breaks a core campaign promise. Democrats lose big when administrations won’t fulfill their promise. I urge the Biden transition team to reconsider this position.”
Many have supported Biden’s decision to not immediately reverse Trump’s policies, as the Migration Policy institute explained that Trump’s methods of implementing immigration reforms were intentionally meant to be difficult to undo.
While Biden’s reasoning for gradually implementing immigration reform and repealing Trump’s policy may have some hold in the DACA situation, it is still important to note that it only took two months for Biden to compromise on a critical promise that has the lives of millions of Americans at stake. The probability that Biden will continue to not fulfill campaign promises has already grown and he has not even entered the White House yet. If he could so easily step back from such a popular sentiment of his campaign, it is likely he will continue to do so for other difficult promises as well.
Many of the criticisms of Biden were squashed during the presidential campaign due to supporters simply wanting to push Trump out of office. However, now that the campaign is over, and Trump is reluctantly accepting defeat, it is important that we hold Biden accountable for the promises that he was voted by the American people to uphold.