WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday will order a review of asylum processing at the U.S.-Mexico border and the immigration system as he seeks to undo some of former President Donald Trump's hardline policies, two senior administration officials said.
Biden will also create a task force to reunite migrant families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by Trump's 2018 "zero tolerance" border strategy, the officials said on a call with reporters on Monday.
Immigration advocates have urged the new Democratic administration to move quickly but Biden aides say they need time to unravel the many layers of immigration restrictions introduced during the Trump era and to put in place new, more migrant-friendly systems.
"Fully remedying the actions will take time and require a full-governance approach," one of the officials said.
The strategy reflects the challenges Biden faces to reversing the Trump policies while simultaneously trying to prevent a surge in illegal immigration and deflect criticism from Republicans, some of whom he will need to advance his agenda in Congress.
At same time, Biden's efforts to undo Trump restrictions could be slowed down by regulatory rules and potential lawsuits from opponents.
In a sign of the wary approach, Biden's executive orders on Tuesday will not address repealing a coronavirus-era order, known as "Title 42." The order was issued under the Trump administration and allows U.S. authorities to expel almost all people caught crossing the border illegally.
As part of the actions on Tuesday, Biden will mandate a review of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a program that pushed 65,000 asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for U.S. court hearings.
The Biden administration has already stopped adding people to the program but crucially it has not yet outlined how it will process the claims of those already enrolled.
"I can't tell you exactly how long it will take to put in an alternative to that policy," another official told reporters on Monday in response to a reporter's question about processing people enrolled in the program.
Chad Wolf, former acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary under Trump, said in an interview that halting the MPP program was a mistake because it had been an effective deterrent to illegal immigration.
"If you do have a surge (of migrants), you're taking one of your tools off the table," he said in reference to the program.
Michelle Brane, a senior director with the New York City-based Women's Refugee Commission, said Biden's latest orders, as reported, do not appear likely to bring the sort of quick change sought by pro-immigrant advocates.
"I think we were all hoping for something more immediate and operational, but these seem like they will be more visionary," she said.
Brane said advocates will now need to "wait and see" what concrete steps U.S. immigration agencies take to implement Biden's directives.
Biden's efforts face logistical challenges and opposition from Republicans, according to immigration policy experts, former officials and activists on both sides of the issue.
Lawsuits by conservative groups could potentially slow down Biden's agenda. A federal judge last week temporarily blocked one of his first immigration moves - a 100-day pause on many deportations - after the Republican-led state of Texas sought an injunction.
Trump won the presidency in 2016 while making border security a major theme of his campaign. If Biden fails to prevent surges in illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, he could give ammunition to Republicans in the 2022 congressional elections, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
"This is the thing that rallied Donald Trump supporters," she said.
Biden's actions on Tuesday will follow six immigration orders he issued on his first day in office.
I can't tell you exactly how long it will take to put in an alternative to that policy.
–Senior official, Biden administration
In his planned order on legal immigration, Biden will call for a review of Trump's so-called "public charge" rule, which makes it harder for poorer immigrants to obtain permanent residency in the United States, .
The review is expected to start the process to rescind it, according to two people familiar with the plan.
Biden's planned order setting up the task force to reunite parents and children separated at the southern border was a key election promise.
The task force, however, will face a daunting challenge in trying to track down the parents of more than 600 children who remain separated, according to a January court filing in a related case. The children are living with relatives or in foster care, according to an attorney representing plaintiffs in the litigation.
The task force will be led by Alejandro Mayorkas, one of the senior officials said on Monday. Mayorkas, Biden's nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, is expected to face a Senate confirmation vote on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Ross Colvin, Aurora Ellis and Alistair Bell)
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