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In Flurry Of Executive Orders, Biden Reverses Some Of Trump's Immigration Policies

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden signed a flurry of executive orders tonight, including measures rolling back parts of the Trump administration's immigration crackdown. We also got more details on an immigration bill that Biden hopes to get passed in Congress. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration.

Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So Biden made a lot of campaign promises to do with immigration. What specifically do the executive orders today address?

ROSE: Right. Well, they deliver on some of those promises for sure. He signed an executive order lifting the travel ban on people from majority-Muslim countries, which Biden had pledged during the campaign to do on Day 1. President Biden also signed a proclamation halting construction of the border wall on the Southern border and plans to roll back Trump's aggressive enforcement tactics in the interior of the U.S. And the Biden administration also today sent a big, ambitious immigration overhaul bill to Congress. With so much happening in the country with coronavirus and other urgent emergencies, there was some question about whether the administration would make immigration a top priority right off the bat. And I think the answer we got today is yes.

KELLY: Fair to say this is a U-turn - very much a U-turn from the Trump administration, both in substance - it sounds like also in tone.

ROSE: For sure. President Trump frequently talked about immigrants as a burden and a threat. President Biden seemed to allude to that in his inauguration speech today when he said that, quote, "nativism, fear and demonization have long torn us apart." When Biden and Harris talk about immigration, by contrast, they talk about restoring humanity to the system and treating immigrants as essential workers and valued community members. And even in this immigration bill, they want to replace the word alien in U.S. immigration law with the word noncitizen. So this is a big shift on immigration. And I think that's part of what the administration is trying to signal with this flurry of action right out of the gate.

KELLY: Right. OK. So let me turn you to the other piece of this - the immigration bill, which, of course, the Biden administration cannot do on its own. They need Congress to buy in as well. What is in this bill?

ROSE: Well, a long list of reforms that immigrant advocates have wanted to see for years. The headline is it would provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. For most of those immigrants, that would take eight years. But it could happen faster for some groups, including people who are enrolled in DACA, which protects immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, also farm workers and immigrants who came here fleeing war and natural disasters in their native countries. One immigrant advocate called this the most progressive legalization bill in history.

KELLY: We should note that Congress has debated immigration reform for years, for decades. Does this bill have a chance of passing now?

ROSE: Well, it's true that Democrats now control both the House and the Senate, but whether they can get this done is still a real question. Their Senate majority in particular is razor-thin.

KELLY: Yeah.

ROSE: And it is not clear how many Republicans, if any, they would get to sign on to this bill. I mean, we've already heard from some lawmakers who are rejecting this as, quote, "mass amnesty." They argue it would only encourage more illegal immigration. And this legislation does not include a lot of what Republicans would want to see in a comprehensive overhaul bill. They would want more workplace enforcement, for example, to make sure companies are hiring legal workers. So it would not surprise me to see this bill eventually get scaled back to try to attract more bipartisan support. But it's interesting that the Biden administration is out there pushing for it on Day 1, despite a pretty dismal record in recent history for immigration bills.

KELLY: Joel, thanks very much.

ROSE: You're welcome.

KELLY: That is NPR's Joel Rose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.