COVID-19 causing issues in U.S. immigration process

Updated: Feb. 14, 2021 at 8:37 AM CST
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - After 2020 with ever-changing immigration policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrants and asylum seekers now have additional Biden Administration orders to keep up with.

The health crisis made the Trump Administration close down the Canada/U.S. and Mexico/U.S. borders and shutdown in-person services in order to prevent further spread of the virus.

From March until August, the policies resulted in more than 147,000 people expelled from the southern border and more than 20,000 asylum-seekers stranded in Mexico,

“I think it’s really going to take a long time to undo, but we are already seeing some changes,” said Amelia McGowan, Director of Immigration Law for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Earlier last week, McGowan joined officials with the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance for a virtual meeting to talk about the changing policies under the new Biden Administration.

“We saw, for example, the president has revoked the asylum entry ban proclamation. He’s rescinding some expedited removal procedures that would lead to fast-track deportations and block asylum seekers from counsel. He’s formally rescinded the zero-tolerance policy that lead to family separation,” she said.

Along with the current changes, the meeting addressed some of the issues still faced by people trying to immigrate into the U.S. legally.

“People don’t have the money to pay,” said L. Patricia Ice, Legal Project Director with Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance. “They can’t afford the fees. I know I was working with somebody several months ago and then I just stopped hearing from them. Then they drifted back into my orbit and I said, ‘What happened?’ and he said, ‘COVID happened.’ He wasn’t doing construction and he wasn’t able to come up with the fees to pay the government.”

President Joe Biden plans on lowering the financial and physical barriers in place for immigration, signing executive orders early in his presidency to loosen certain restrictions.

However, most of the reversals would come through the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.

The bill promises better pathways to citizenship, labor protections and other benefits.

Biden sent the measure to Congress, and activists now wait to see what additions will be made as the bill goes through the lawmakers.

“It’s very difficult to inform the people about the policies when there are no policies in place yet, but what we are attempting to do here is to let people know that things are changing and to let them get prepared for the changes. Because we definitely think there are going to be new policies,” Ice said.

For nonprofit immigration help, visit the Mississippi Immigration Rights Alliance, Mississippi Center for Justice and El Pueblo.

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