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Joe Biden Wasted No Time Betraying Immigration Activists

Biden has made it clear that immigrants don't deserve better than what his Democratic predecessor offered them.

A protester with a face mask at an October 2020 demonstration in Minneapolis holding a black sign that says "Abolish ICE" in white block letters
Fibonacci Blue/Flickr

The unfulfilled promises from the Biden administration just keep coming.

On Sunday, NPR reported on the latest crack in President-elect Joe Biden’s progressive-friendly facade, this time regarding the future administration’s relationship with some of country’s most vulnerable communities. According to the outlet, the Biden transition team has distanced itself from the immigrant activist community, all but confirming that activists and nonprofits that had hoped to push Biden to the left on immigration issues will find little give.

From NPR’s article, headlined, “On Immigration, Activists’ Demands May Exceed Biden Realities“:

Biden pledged during his campaign to use those powers to reverse many of Trump’s most controversial actions. Biden’s plan includes a 100-day moratorium on deportations, restoring protections for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and eliminating Trump’s restrictions on asylum-seekers.

But some immigrant rights groups, like the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, Movimiento Cosecha and United We Dream, want more.


Their requests include returning undocumented immigrants wrongfully deported under Trump, stopping detention of asylum-seekers, expanding the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and using other executive powers, like granting temporary protected status, to protect more undocumented immigrants.

These organizations, such as United We Dream, have been open in their mission to demand more from a Biden administration. Take the organization’s virtual event hosted the day that Biden was declared victorious. Its description reads, “Join our community call for a celebration and to learn how we can take action in the next four years to make sure Biden and all elected officials are held accountable and committed to protecting immigrant communities. Our power is undeniable, and Congress and the White House will see and hear from us in the first 100 days.”

And though the transition team told NPR that they’ve held “dozens of meetings” with groups that are demanding the requests listed above, these meetings don’t seem to have swayed the transition team into taking immigration issues into account. From NPR again, emphasis mine:

Although Biden promised to reverse Trump’s most restrictive immigration policies, he didn’t include immigration among his top four priorities: the coronavirus pandemic, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change.

That was intentional, said a person familiar with transition discussions. He told NPR that the Biden campaign and then the transition team felt that immigration activists had become too adversarial.

“There are a number of people within Team Biden who are just uncomfortable with a lot of the policy initiatives that they recommend, which is why when you saw Biden’s four core issues, immigration was not one of them,” he said.

Immigrants, migrants, and undocumented people were among some of the most targeted groups over the course of the Trump administration, starting with January 2017’s Muslim ban, through the move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program later that year, the systematic family separations the following year, countless changes to protections for nationals from countries with Temporary Protected Status, asylum requirements, ICE raids, and so much more.

Activists from and advocates for these communities fought hard for visibility, especially among a mainstream media that clings to stories of children, mothers, and more-sympathetic groups of immigrants over other undocumented people. So much of what Biden ran on was this idea that he was, in many respects, better than President Trump, and that the nation’s immigrants deserve better than the horrors of the past four years.

And yet, Biden has made it clear that immigrants don’t deserve better than what his Democratic predecessor offered them, and how the Obama administration treated them. (Obama himself recently referred to one of these vocal immigration activists as “hecklers” in his new autobiography.) Turning on them now is nothing short of an insult, and a slap in the face of so many of the people who supported him with the understanding that he would fight for their families and neighbors. Alas, it is but another promise broken.

I reached out to immigrant advocate groups Detention Watch Network,, RAICES and United We Dream for responses to the Biden campaign and transition team’s comments about “adversarial” activists, and what their plans might be amid this new information. We’ll update this blog if I hear back.

Update, 10:53 a.m. ET:

In an emailed statement to Discourse Blog, Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, wrote that abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and immigration detention and bettering the lives of immigrants are core to the commitments from the Biden team to advance racial equality, and that they will still be looking for these commitments once he’s in office. Biden’s own plan states that he will reform ICE instead.

“Our demands are rooted in our values of dignity, justice and freedom for all — there should be nothing that’s ‘adversarial’ about that,” Shah wrote. “We must see steps from the Biden administration on day one that proves he’s committed to these values, including proposing massive cuts to ICE’s budget, shutting down detention centers and freeing people from ICE custody. If not, the Biden administration should expect an outcry from communities across the country that have been speaking out and demanding transformative change.”