The year 2021 started out with great hope for both immigrant families and immigration advocates with the new political leadership change in Washington DC, but the year ended up feeling more like Groundhog Day repeating the highlights from 2020 instead. Both 2020 and 2021 mostly revolved around the ongoing restrictions with Covid-19 and the major complications that impacted every aspect of immigration as well as the ongoing crisis at the southern border and the yo-yo effect brought by the constant changes imposed by Trump and then again by Biden. Such as the “Remain in Mexico” program or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
2021 was a very tough year for immigration indeed. Despite the president’s pro-immigrant platform, not many improvements to the restrictive policies of president Trump were accomplished during the year. On the contrary, the year 2021 witnessed record numbers of backlogs for court cases and all types of immigration filings now reaching into the millions of cases.
Though U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not released the actual number of approvals granted over the past year, it is estimated that around 1.2 million people are still are waiting work permits requests to be granted. As of December 16th, USCIS reported that the normal number of annual requests for employment-based Green Card applications doubled over the last year from 115,000 to around 237,000 and most are experiencing significant processing delays.
Despite major limits to progress in 2021, USCIS attempted to improve things by changing internal practices such as re-using previously collected biometrics data and by allowing an increase in overtime available to workers. Although these measures are a smart use of the administration’s internal controls, any positive gains may have been completely offset by the sheer number of groundless denials, baffling requests for repeat information and unjustified rejections experienced by countless thousands of legitimate applicants.
On the flip-side, the Biden administration was very good at prioritizing requests for citizenship and conducting interviews to be able to approve close to 855,000 new citizens through the smart use of video technology and social distancing protocols. In another accomplishment, the administration reported completing around 39,000 affirmative asylum cases and 44,000 credible fear determinations. Although this did not reduce the million plus cases currently before the immigration court and it barely puts a dent in the overall backlog of cases, it does give hope and very real protections to a large number of troubled people.
Another major problem that does not appear to be going away anytime soon is the humanitarian crisis that has defined the first year of Biden’s presidency. As of December 16th, a new hotspot has sprung up in Yuma, Arizona where thousands of migrants have been entering the state from the U.S.-Mexico border. Facilities in the state are reportedly overwhelmed and thousands of immigrants at the border have been congregating at the break in the border wall. These migrants are reportedly just sitting around waiting to be picked up by Border Patrol agents as they have fallen for false promises of legal status that they have been told by coyotes and other political manipulators.
As we look into 2022, the hope is that Biden can achieve his goals of making some sort of positive impact on immigration. To achieve this, his leadership will need to drastically increase the number of filings being processed by immigration and will need to find a realistic solution to the chaotic problem at the border. This is not an easy task, but with the resources and infrastructure of the federal government at his disposal, it should not be an impossibility.