VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Biden administration wasted no time in taking two steps toward immigration reform last week, by issuing orders that pause deportations and stopping construction on the border wall.
While a lawsuit filed by the State of Texas resulted in a temporary restraining order on the deportation moratorium — meaning the Biden administration can’t enforce the moratorium at this point –these actions by Biden, along with legislation in the works, are cause for hope for the immigrant community in Hampton Roads.
With the border wall and travel bans, immigrants in Hampton Roads felt hostility during the Trump administration. Now his successor is trying to pass the biggest reform in more than 30 years.
“It’s a huge difference now, just because there’s little bit more peace and tranquility and just this feeling of [relief],” said attorney Radlyn Mendoza with an exhale. She and her husband John Gardner represent immigrants at their Virginia Beach law practice.
“There was so much coming out of the Trump administration that was very negative,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza and Gardner say their clients now will not have to worry about whether immigration policy may change on a dime — and they’ll have fewer questions about their status.
“I just swore in to be a US citizen, I have my passport, am I allowed to travel out of the country and will I be able to come back in?” Mendoza cited as a common question during the past few years.
Biden put a 100-day pause on deportations and instructed authorities to concentrate on national security threats and spies, border crossers who arrived after Nov. 1, and aggravated felons currently in prison who are about to be released.
However, migrant advocates expressed disbelief and anger on Tuesday after a federal judge barred the Biden administration from enforcing the 100-day moratorium.
Gardner also says Biden’s quick decision to halt construction on the border wall — even though it’s thousands of miles away — reverberates here.
“It feels like there’s a weight that’s come off everyone’s shoulders in just a matter of days feeling like okay, everything’s gonna be alright for this community,” he said.
The American Immigration Council estimates one in six Virginia workers is an immigrant. Gardner and Mendoza are hoping they’ll see a clearer path to citizenship under the Biden administration.
“Yes we do have an undocumented population here in Hampton Roads and they’re out there and building our roads, building our bridges,” Mendoza said.
So far, Biden’s immigration policy has been by executive order. However, legislation is in the works to help undocumented workers — and the attorneys say the vast majority of them have been living in Virginia for many years and they have vehicles registered, they own homes, and they’re working and paying taxes.