Within hours of being sworn in as president, Joe Biden sent an immigration bill to lawmakers that would open a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States unlawfully, a sharp contrast with the policies of former president Donald Trump.
Biden also signed 15 executive actions on Wednesday, at least six of those dealing with immigration, making the issue a major focus of the Democratic president's first day in office.
The actions included immediately lifting a travel ban on more than a dozen mostly Muslim-majority and African countries, halting construction of the US-Mexico border wall and reversing a Trump order preventing migrants who are in the United States illegally being counted when US congressional voting districts are next redrawn.
Biden also signed a memorandum directing the Department of Homeland Security and the US attorney-general to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects migrants who came to the country as children from deportation, and reverse Trump's executive order calling for stricter interior immigration enforcement.
Biden plans additional executive actions on January 29, including restoring US asylum protections, strengthening refugee processing and setting up a task force to reunify families still separated by Trump's border policies, according to a memo shared with lawmakers and obtained by Reuters.
Biden will also lift barriers to legal immigration put in place by his Republican predecessor during the past four years, the memo says.
The new president is also expected on January 29 to end a Trump program called the Migrant Protection Protocols, according to a person familiar with the plan. The program has left tens of thousands of asylum seekers waiting in Mexico for US court hearings, with many stuck for months in squalid tent camps near the US border.
Taken together, the actions show Biden is beginning his presidency with a sharp focus on immigration, just as Trump kept the issue at the center of his policy agenda until the last days of his administration.
Biden's decision to immediately roll back Trump's travel ban, which sparked widespread protests when it was signed and was panned as discriminatory, won praise from business groups and advocates. Myron Brilliant, an executive at the US Chamber of Commerce, said the reversal would help "restore our credibility on the global stage".
Australian Associated Press