On his first day in the Oval Office, Pres. Joe Biden swiftly signed executive orders aimed to reverse immigration policies established by his predecessor. Some of these actions are already being felt in North Carolina, but legal experts say many of Trump's policies still impact how cases are decided and who's allowed to remain in the country.
One of Pres. Biden's immigration-related directives reinstated DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. Former Pres. Trump had threatened to susped DACA, but his attempts were blocked in court. Biden's order also calls on Congress to enact legislation to provide permanent status and a path to citizenship for those immigrants, called “Dreamers.”
That would impact the estimated 24,480 individuals receiving DACA benefits in the state. US Citizen and Immigration Services says North Carolina is among the ten states with the highest number of DACA recipients.
“I anticipate the lines to start growing outside my door once that bill is signed, there’s no doubt about it," George Pappas, an immigration attorney in Hendersonville, said.
Pappas says Biden has already reestablished certain norms in court procedures that were dismantled by the Justice Department under Trump. For instance, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions mandated that judges be reviewed based on the number of cases they processed -- that action led to more deportations.
“It’s become almost like traffic court. Every five minutes, new clients come in and their life and death is basically decided in five minutes. That helter skelter environment is going to stop,” Pappas said.
While immigratiom judges will regain their discretion on deciding cases, some of Trump's policies, particulularly as they pertain to asylum, are still in effect.
"There was a case that originated out of the Charlotte Immigration Court that has made it extremely difficult for asylum seekers who are fleeing domestic violence or gang violence in their home countries to win an asylum case," Shoshana Fried, attorney and director of the Justice for All program at Pisgah Legal Services, said. "This has resulted in asylum denials for some of the most vulnerable immigrants."
Once asylum-seekers run out of legal remedies, they are deported back to their home countries, sometimes into dangerous situations. BPR reported on one of those cases in 2019.
"Until that case and others like it are overruled, many asylum seekers still will have difficulty obtaining protection in the US," Fried said. "The prior administration also changed a lot of the rules relating to how asylum-seekers have been treated and classified at the border. The Biden administration has started to change those policies, but there is still quite a bit that remains in place."
One of the biggest snags that continue to slow down the courts is the massive backlog of cases, now compounded by the pandemic. Pappas says he has clients scheduled out to 2022. He’s calling for Biden’s new attorney general to appoint more immigration judges in Charlotte and across the country.