One of the major long-term changes that can be expected under the Biden Administration is the revision or repeal of the Public Charge Rule, a regulation first introduced in 1882 that allows authorities to reject an immigration request if it is deemed likely that the person requesting entry to the United States will have to use public resources and programs intended for U.S. citizens, such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Medicaid. This rule has been highly criticized in recent years, particularly by members of the Democratic party and its progressive wing, and revision of the rule will likely be expected among the Democratic caucuses. However, the Public Charge Rule has been enacted in its current form as an administrative regulation, and therefore will be subject to statutory rulemaking procedures in order for any change to be made. Notice and Comment Rulemaking - the most common method an executive agency uses to change administrative regulatory regimes - typically takes between one and three years before a final rule is published and enacted, so the Public Charge Rule will likely remain in effect for some time, unless rescinded by Congressional legislation.
President Biden has announced that he will be directing Congress to introduce immigration reform legislation in the coming months that specifically provides increased legal protections and a path towards citizenship for the nearly 11 million immigrants currently living in the United States, including an estimated 1.7 million undocumented immigrants. This plan has already been presented to leaders in Congress and has also already received pushback from Republican representatives and senators. Any significant changes made under this proposal will be met with resistance and will be subject to lively debate and a long floor fight in Congress, so sweeping changes should not be expected quickly.
Finally, President Biden has announced a return to pre-Trump Administration levels of refugee acceptance in the United States. This policy change was mentioned in Part 1, but it is being included in Part 2 due to the logistical hurdles that any increase in refugee acceptance will have at present. Under the Trump Administration, refugee acceptance was limited to 15,000 people per year, and President Biden has announced that he plans to increase the limits back to their previous levels of 125,000 people per year. While this can be accomplished through orders from the president to executive officers in USCIS, many refugee resettlement agencies and the infrastructure that was previously in place to support refugee resettlement has been disbanded or reduced due to the previous lack of refugees and a shutoff of federal funding to the organizations. These organizations are preparing to step up processing and increase their operations once federal funding begins to flow again, but it will take considerable time before they have rehired appropriate staff, made necessary material arrangements, and rebuilt the foundations necessary for refugee resettlement operations. As such, it is expected that any return to pre-2017 resettlement levels will take place after the end of 2021, regardless of established refugee acceptance limits.
Part 3 of this series will discuss the current political climate in Washington, D.C. and the current composition of Congress going into 2021, as well as the expected effects that those factors will have on the ability for the Biden Administration to propose and enact immigration changes. In addition, Part 3 will project the timeline for many of these potential changes to the immigration system, as well as provide a summary of any and all changes that have occurred since the beginning of the Biden Administration on January 20.