February 10, 2021 – Last week President Biden signed three executive orders to pave the way toward a more “fair, orderly, humane” immigration system. Each executive order has strong implications for the health of immigrants and their ability and willingness to seek out lifesaving health care services.

The first executive order establishes an interagency task force to begin the difficult process of reuniting migrant children in the U.S. with their families. Under the previous administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy, 5500 children have been separated from their parents and legal guardians, causing lasting damage to the health and wellbeing of those impacted. The task force will make recommendations to facilitate family reunification and guidance to provide additional support services to the children and their families, including trauma and mental health services.

The second executive order seeks to address the underlying factors that have led to recent surges in migration and to restore and strengthen the U.S. asylum system. This executive action includes a review to modify or end the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program. It also calls for action for the nearly 70,000 asylum seekers, primarily from Central America, who have been impacted by MPP and currently await court hearings in unofficial border camps in northern Mexico.

Finally, the third executive order requires federal agencies to do a top-to-bottom review of recent regulations, policies and guidance that have set up barriers to our legal immigration system. Importantly, the review will start with the updated “public charge” rule, which aims to prevent certain immigrants from obtaining permanent resident (green card) status if they were deemed likely to require public benefits. Since this order only calls for a review of such policies, there is still a critical need to reverse the public charge rule, which would remove barriers in immigrants’ access to health care amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Even though more work is needed to improve the immigration system and protect and expand health care for all, these orders signal a positive start in the quest to undo damaging immigration policies implemented during the previous administration.

Tiffany Alunan, Health Care For All Immigrant Health Intern