ACLU slams Biden on migrant policies: He "just dusted off Trump’s CLOSED sign”

Immigration groups say Biden breaking promises on immigration rules, family detention and child migrant facilities

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published March 10, 2021 12:54PM (EST)

President Joe Biden speaks from the State Dining Room following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in the U.S. Senate at the White House on March 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden speaks from the State Dining Room following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in the U.S. Senate at the White House on March 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Civil rights groups have slammed the Biden administration for denying entry to thousands of people affected by Donald Trump's "Muslim ban" as immigration advocates grow frustrated with President Biden's slow rollback of his predecessor's policies.

Biden, who called the Muslim ban "morally wrong," rescinded the ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries immediately after taking office. The State Department said on Monday that those denied entry by the ban could reapply but applicants who were selected for the diversity lottery — which aims to boost migration from underrepresented populations — but then denied entry because of the ban would not be eligible for new visas. The department said that the "deadlines for visa issuance" under that program have "expired."

The American Civil Liberties Union sharply criticized this announcement, warning that a disproportionate number of Africans would be impacted by the ban, saying Biden "has failed to help so many of those harmed" by his predecessor.

"The opportunity to 'win' a diversity visa is a rare and life-changing opportunity that was snatched away from thousands of people because of President Trump's hatred and discrimination," Manar Waheed, the ACLU's senior legislative and advocacy counsel, said in a statement. "Instead of restoring this opportunity, President Biden just dusted off Trump's 'CLOSED' sign and locked the door behind him."

Waheed added that the decision "threatens to forever prevent thousands of Black and Brown immigrants who meet all the legal requirements to immigrate to the United States from doing so."

"Although Biden made the Muslim ban recession a day one priority, that alone is not enough," she said. "Today, he cemented Trump's legacy of harm."

Abed Ayoub, the legal policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, called the decision "disheartening and disappointing."

Progressive lawmakers also criticized the decision.

"This is infuriating," Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., tweeted on Tuesday.

"The Muslim ban is a stain on our national conscience," Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., tweeted, quoting Biden's remarks about the policy. "So the cycle of harm must be broken. This is unacceptable."

Critics say the decision highlights the Biden administration's lack of impetus in rolling back Trump-era policies decried by Biden on the campaign trail.

The New York Times reported on Monday that the number of unaccompanied migrant children detained in "facilities akin to jails" has tripled in just the last two weeks and that more than a third of them have been detained longer than legally allowed amid a shortage of capacity at shelters. The children are being held at Customs and Border Protection facilities that were intended to house adults and have drawn scrutiny for horrific conditions.

This year has seen a surge of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border greater than any in the past decade, straining the government's capacity. The Biden administration already decided to reopen an emergency border facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, that had been shuttered under the Trump administration after a backlash over its poor conditions. The White House has argued that the additional space was necessary because the alternative is either to send children back or release them without a proper sponsor. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said earlier this month that it "takes time to build out of the depths of cruelty that the administration before us established."

Linda Brandmiller, a Texas attorney who represents unaccompanied minors, told The Washington Post that reopening the emergency facilities was "unnecessary, it's costly, and it goes absolutely against everything Biden promised he was going to do."

"It's a step backward, is what it is," she said. "It's a huge step backward."

Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said on Twitter that "this is not okay," no matter the "administration or party."

The Biden administration has also drawn scrutiny for its handling of family detention. Though Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a court filing last week that it is transitioning to a system that will release families after no more than 72 hours, an ICE official told NBC News that the administration is not ending the family detention policy.

"ICE does maintain and continues to a system for family detention," the official said. "We are not ending family detention. We are not closing the family detention centers."

Despite the court filing, the official told NBC, the agency "will not impose a 72-hour limit" and "will continue to hold families until the 20-day court mandated limit."

Mayorkas did not address that policy question but told NBC that a "detention center is not where a family belongs" and the department will work to make sure everyone is treated humanely.

Immigration advocates have expressed outrage. "The Biden administration promised to stop the detention of families by private prison companies," Shalyn Fluharty, director of the legal immigration assistance group Proyecto Dilley, told NBC. "This is not the just and humane response these vulnerable families deserve."

Biden has rolled back Trump's policies preventing foreign students from getting visas, restarted the program to protect Dreamers, and vowed to expand the number of refugees admitted into the country. But there is no timeline for changes to the refugee program and Biden has left numerous Trump-era policies in place, including a pandemic rule that turned away migrants who aren't unaccompanied children at the border.

Immigration advocates agree that rolling back Trump's legacy of hundreds of changes to immigration policy will take time, but want to see the Biden team moving forward, not backward. Administration officials say changes won't be made overnight but agree that it's imperative to undo Trump's damage.

"At every step of the way we're looking at where are the bottlenecks and then trying to eliminate those bottlenecks and yes it won't be solved by tomorrow," Esther Olavarria, deputy director for immigration at the White House's Domestic Policy Council, told The New York Times. "But if you don't start to do each of these things, you are never going to solve the problem."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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