On Tuesday, November 10, 2020, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) issued comprehensive recommendations on swift immigration reform for the incoming Biden-Harris Administration. AILA is the national bar association for immigration lawyers with over 15,000 members scattered throughout the U.S. and even the globe. Our Managing Attorney, Fiona McEntee, is one of a few national spokespeople for AILA and is also the Chair of the Media & Advocacy Committee for AILA National & the Chair of the Media Committee for AILA Chicago.

AILA’s recommendations were developed in consultation with its national policy committees and network of volunteer lawyers.

The 20-page report, titled “A Vision for America as a Welcoming Nation: AILA Recommendations for the Future of Immigration,” notes that while “Congress must pass legislation to ensure that lasting, structural changes are made to the immigration system,” President Biden “has the executive power to implement the following set of urgently needed recommendations, which will significantly ameliorate the harms cause by the previous administration and revitalize our nation’s immigration system”.

AILA’s collective recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration include:

1.     Proclaim a Message of Welcome

In his first week in office, President Biden should issue a proclamation declaring that America welcomes all people no matter their faith, color, or nationality, and that we, as a country, renounce the anti-immigrant bans and policies implemented by the previous administration – in particular, the Muslim ban, the refugee ban, the asylum bans, the pregnancy ban, the health insurance ban, the public charge regulation, and the COVID-19 bans.

The administration should also prioritize the appointment of leadership committed to the implementation of its vision; move immediately to foster a culture in all immigration agencies that values professionalism and high-quality customer services; reengage with diverse community-based organizations and state and local bar associations as well as ethnic bar associations to ensure that all voices are heard in setting agency policies; and safeguard our nation’s health against COVID-19 without scapegoating immigrants.

2.     Ensure Fairness, Efficiency, and Accountability in the Legal Immigration System

The administration should hold USCIS accountable and true to its congressionally defined mission to provide prompt, consistent and fair adjudication to its customers. The president should rescind policies that have significantly and unnecessarily burdened case processing.

3.     Restore Integrity, Fairness, and Efficiency to the Immigration Courts

The Biden administration should take concrete steps within its executive authority to ameliorate the damage done by President Trump and increase judicial independence, fairness, and consistency in decision making.

4.     Ensure the Fair and Humane Treatment of Migrants at the Border

President Biden should rescind inhumane Trump policies, like protection of asylum seekers and the separation and detention of families, that strip them of a fair chance to seek legal protection and are designed to deter.

5.     Restore Asylum and Protections for Victims of Crime

The President should remove barriers to asylum, revoke barriers for crime victims, and commit to restoring American leadership in international refugee protection and rebuilding all humanitarian programs, including the U.S. Refugee Program.

6.     Guarantee Legal Assistance and Counsel

Within the first 30 days, President Biden should announce a commitment to provide every person facing immigration removal with legal counsel paid for by the government if they cannot afford it.

A 2016 American Immigration Council study found only 37% of people facing removal were represented and only 14% of detained people had legal counsel. The difference in outcomes for those represented as compared to unrepresented is staggering: People who were never detained were five times more likely to obtain legal relief. Attorneys make court proceedings more efficient and reduce government costs.

7.     End Inhumane Detention

The Biden administration has the opportunity to make major advances in reform by shifting away from detention. Within the first 100 days, the new administration should review all detention cases with the goal of using alternatives to detention.

Immediate action should be taken to scale-up community-based release programs that are highly effective at ensuring appearance at court, far less costly than detention, and more humane.

The Biden administration should also end family detention and the separation of families immediately.

8.     Set a Vision for Immigration Enforcement That Is Fair, Humane and Effective

After 4 years of anti-immigrant scapegoating, a new vision for enforcement must be based on the principle that all people subjected to immigrant enforcement action must be treated fairly and respectfully as human beings.

9.     Improve Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Adjudications and Processing at Ports of Entry

The Biden administration should implement rigorous oversight and “guardrails” to ensure consistency and transparency in adjudications at all ports of entry.

10.  Protect Undocumented People and Others with Deep Ties to America

President Biden should fully reinstate the DACA program and make it fairer and more accessible by modifying criteria based on age, residency, education, and past criminal activity.

Within the first six months in office, President Biden should conduct a full review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) programs and reissue, redesignate, or initiate new designations to nationals of countries experiencing crises.

The new administration should also apply deferred action and humanitarian parole to protect military families, people with severe medical needs, victims of serious crime waiting for U visas, and other experiencing hardship in need of legal relief.

11.  Reform Employment-Based and Family-Based Visa Programs

The Biden-Harris administration should work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ensure efficient processing of work permits and employment authorization verification.

The administration should promote immigrant entrepreneurship, business growth, investment, and job creation to revive the U.S. economy by improving the H-1B, H-2B, and EB-5 programs.

12.  Ensure the State Department (DOS) is Properly Resourced to Provide Fair and Efficient Consular Processing

The Biden administration should work to restore transparency and institutionalize accountability in consular affairs.

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While there remains a lot of work to be done, we are really looking forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration to “Get the Job Done” for our clients!

AILA members can access the full document here: https://www.aila.org/infonet/a-vision-for-america-as-a-welcoming-nation.