President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to reverse the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies starting on Day 1. Some of his proposals, like creating a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrrants, will require congressional approval. But others can be achieved with the stroke of a pen through executive orders.

The question is, which ones?

Local immigration advocates have their eyes on three policies they say Biden can choose to implement right away. There are more than half a million undocumented immigrants in New York City who could be affected.

Reversing the Travel Ban

Biden’s team has already said that on his first day he’ll reverse Trump’s travel ban. It was initially created by executive order in January of 2017, and banned travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations, though it was modified to include other types of nations after lawsuits accused the adminstration of discrimination.

In New York City, people born in Yemen, Iran, and Syria make up the vast majority of residents with family members subject to the ban, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Affairs.

“We were the most affected from any other nation that were on that ban,” said Abdul Mubarez, president of the Yemeni American Merchants Association, which organized a citywide protest in 2017.

With the U.S. embassy in Yemen closed, due to the civil war, Mubarez said relatives of Yemeni-Americans had to travel to nearby countries in order to get their visas processed and were then stuck overseas.

Mubarez has two nieces and a nephew who are American citizens now seeking to bring over spouses and children. He said he hopes the process will become faster and more fair. He’s planning to have his grown children come over to his home in Astoria to watch Biden’s inauguration.

“We are going to celebrate that we finally got a president that understands that America is America.”

Those who favored the ban told NPR it pressured other countries like Syria and Libya to tighten their own vetting of travelers.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

President Trump lost his fight to shut down DACA, former President Barack Obama’s 2012 program protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. It has now been fully restored and first-time applicants are being considered for the first time in three years.

For this reason, local immigration advocates said an executive order by Biden to reinstate the program will be mostly ceremonial. But since government agencies require further guidance on how to implement an executive order, some hope the program could become more user-friendly.

“There's probably going to be more fee waivers,” said Cesar Vargas, an attorney and former DACA recipient who later obtained a green card. Applying for DACA costs $495, which is a lot of money for undocumented immigrants who aren’t legally allowed to work.

Vargas said there’s also talk of expanding DACA’s benefits, namely work authorization and protection from deportation, from two years to three or four years. Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, will be closely watched in the weeks ahead. In his legislative plan, the new president is also reportedly planning to give green cards quickly to both DACA recipients and those with Temporary Protected Status, a program that allows people from certain countries in crisis to live and work in the U.S. for a limited time.


President Trump used his executive powers to vastly broaden enforcement priorities to include virtually all undocumented immigrants and those accused of crimes. As a result, New York City saw a dramatic spike in the number of immigrants arrested by Immmigration and Customs Enforcement — many for civil, not criminal, violations.

Immigration advocates want Biden to use those same executive powers to reverse Trump’s priorities, and the incoming president has suggested a moratorium of certain deportations, or at least those that don’t involve criminals.

What that will look like remains to be seen. But local advocates are calling for a temporary suspension of all deportations.

Alina Das, an immigration professor at NYU’s law school and co-director of the school’s immigrant rights clinic, said a pause will “give the new administration time to review all of the cruel and inhumane and unjust policies that have been rolled out over the last four years.”

She said immigrants accused of crimes are still innocent until proven guilty, and those who were convicted have either completed their sentences or are still serving them. She argued that a moratorium on deportations is also necessary because the criminal justice system has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino people, meaning, “you're going to see that same racial bias in who gets deported.”

Sarah Deri Oshiro, managing director for immigration at Bronx Defenders, said any moratorium should include releasing immigrants held in detention. She said it’s “abysmal” from a public health perspective to keep people in jail when they are facing civil immigration proceedings.

This is why Perry McAninch, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, which also represents detained immigrants, said any moratorium on deportations should also apply to enforcement. Otherwise, he said, “individuals who are either currently detained by ICE, or who are arrested by ICE during the moratorium period, will not receive relief and will languish in dangerous jail conditions.”

Whatever executive actions Biden takes in the coming days are just the beginning of a larger immigration overhaul. And Republican-led states could challenge them just as Democrat-led states like New York sued over Trump’s executive orders on immigration. This is why the new president will need support from Congress to enact most of his agenda, a tough challenge with only the slimmest of majorities in the Senate.