TAMPA, Fla. — Immigration has been on the back-burner through the flurry of activity surrounding Election Day and the pressing worldwide emergency that is the coronavirus pandemic. But now, immigration policy is once again taking a spot on the stage following the results of the election. Dreamers, who have been in a state of limbo through the Trump presidency are hopeful ground-shaking changes are on the way.
Joshua Contreras is a so-called dreamer. He can’t vote by law but he’s breathing a sigh of relief at the results.
“Relief because a lot of the things — a lot of my goals — I had to put them on pause," he said.
Contreras is one of over 600,000 young adults whose parents brought them into the U.S. illegally as a child. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, protects dreamers from deportation. President Donald Trump has scaled back the program and attempted to end it altogether. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Trump's plan to end DACA in June.
President-elect Biden's plan is night-and-day in comparison.
“My hope is that he gives us a pathway to citizenship, a roadmap," said Contreras.
Biden promises he will kick-start legislation in his first 100 days in office to do exactly that for the undocumented community. He also vows to expand legal immigration opportunities for those that work, study and seek asylum in the U.S.
On the border wall, Biden says he will not let another foot of it be constructed.
We asked Tampa-based attorney Ralph Fernandez whether he believes Biden's approach to immigration reform makes the U.S. less safe.
"Absolutely not," responded Fernandez, who is not a dreamer. "I think this is the dawning of a new age and of a new time."
Fernandez is splintered from the Cuban-American vote which went to Trump, especially in Florida. He believes Trump’s immigration approach didn’t target America's real security concerns such as curtailing violence from cartels.
At the U.S.-Mexico border, Biden promised an executive order to reunite children kept in detention cells with their parents.
“Although it was a very sad and horrible situation and horrible footage I think it was needed as a wake-up call," said Contreras.
The government has not been able to find the parents of over 500 children they separated at the border.
“Besides being a violation of human rights, it affects the heartbeat of this nation," said Fernandez.
Meanwhile, he expects immigration attorneys will be busy with Biden's expected policy changes. Fernandez believes immigration reform will not be an easy task for the Biden administration.
"I think we are a kind and gentle nation and it's going to take a bit to return to that," he said.
Critics of Biden have pointed to the number of deportations that took place under the Obama administration. Between 2009 and 2015 his administration has removed more than 2.5 million people, three times what Trump has done. The figure doesn’t include the number of undocumented who "self-deported" or were turned away to their home country at the border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“We did give him [Obama] that name ‘Deporter-in-Chief' and I do think that’s what a lot of people forget about that," said Contreras.
Fernandez says the title needs context.
"He [Obama] was the 'Deporter-in-Chief' of 'Criminals-in-Chief.' He didn't deport plain, ordinary people. He deported the criminals," said Fernandez.
In the fiscal year 2015, 91% of those removed from the U.S. were previously convicted of a crime.
Nonetheless, Fernandez and Contreras insist Biden does not have their blanket approval. They’ll keep a close watch on what he does next or doesn’t.
“These are just words right now. We need to see the actual action put into place," said Contreras.
Fernandez says the U.S. in the world spotlight.
"We are being judged not only by our hearts and souls but by the world," he said.