Raul Medina has spent his entire life afraid of that he or his family would be detained and deported. He was born in Mexico, but was brought to the U.S. at the age of five by his parents, and says he was well trained not to speak about his legal status. He and his family are undocumented and have lived with uncertainty for the more than 20 years they’ve lived in Colorado. Now, for at least the next 100 days, he and his family won’t have to worry about deportation proceedings after the Biden Administration implemented a stop to most removal orders.
Most deportations will be halted for 100 days beginning on Friday, one of several steps the Biden Administration is taking to reevaluate immigration enforcement strategy and undo the hardline policies and rules set by the government of Donald Trump. Immigration advocates and lawyers say that for the millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S., 100 days without deportations is a welcome respite after four years of a harsher Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) strategy, including arresting and deporting undocumented people who weren’t targets, but happened to be in the vicinity when ICE conducted a raid. ICE dubbed the people caught up in this policy “collaterals” or “non-targets.”
“There is a sense of relief for a lot of our community—for 100 days,” Medina, a community organizer with the Colorado People’s Alliance, tells TIME with a laugh. “It’s a great first step. It will allow our people to fight their deportation cases and to have a chance to stay in the U.S.”
The 100-day halt on deportations—which is intended to give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) time to steer its “limited resources” toward border security and other priorities such as reassessing asylum procedures according to a memorandum issued Jan. 20 by DHS acting secretary David Pekoske—applies to those who arrived in the U.S. prior to Nov. 1, 2020. Anyone who arrived after that date or is deemed a threat to national security or considered to be a threat to public safety will still be subject to deportation. Though the memo does not clarify why the Administration chose the Nov. 1, 2020 cutoff date, Kari Hong, associate professor of law at Boston College Law School, tells TIME she believes the date was chosen to ensure those who are exempt from deportation are people who have been in the U.S. for a long period of time. “[The date] definitely indicates that people who were impacted by the prior administration’s policies will be protected in this time period,” she says.
Meanwhile, DHS will undergo a review of policies and practices regarding immigration enforcement, in order “to enable focusing the Department’s resources where they are most needed.”
“The United States faces significant operational challenges at the southwest border as it is confronting the most serious global public health crisis in a century,” the memo reads, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. It adds that DHS must surge resources to the border in order to repair asylum proceedings, adopt appropriate public health guidelines, and prioritize responding to threats to national security.
The Obama Administration prioritized the removals of undocumented immigrants with criminal records and ultimately deported more than 5.2 million people, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). Deportations actually decreased under the Trump Administration, which prioritized the removals of all individuals who resided in the U.S. without authorization, not just those who had a previous criminal conviction. Despite his campaign promise to deport 11 million people, deportation rates decreased in part because of so-called “sanctuary” policies in states and cities that limited cooperation with ICE, according to MPI. ICE, which handles enforcement efforts in the interior of the U.S., also had to send resources U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the southern border to assist with enforcement needs there, according to a 2019 ICE report.
The Trump Administration brought back the workplace ICE raids that had ended under Obama, and expanded arrests in residential neighborhoods and sensitive locations such as courthouses, according to MPI. Rumors and reports of coming ICE raids, sometimes coming from Trump himself, often led to days of fear for undocumented immigrants. In August 2019, ICE arrested 680 people at seven different worksites across Mississippi on a single day, leaving children stranded when their parents were detained.
How the government decides to handle deportations at the end of the 100-day period remains to be seen. Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office revoking the previous Administration’s order that expanded immigration enforcement to prioritize all undocumented immigrants for removal. Biden has also sent a bill to Congress that includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for qualifying undocumented immigrants.
“My phone has been filled with text messages from clients who are just relieved,” Hong says. “I’ve been practicing for over 20 years, and it seems like there’s a possible way forward here for the first time in a long, long time.”
Hong is hopeful that the divided Congress will act on Biden’s bill and other immigration policy changes due to their high public support. According to a Pew Research Center survey published June 2020, 74% of Americans support granting a permanent legal status to those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, a demographic known as Dreamers. Another Pew Research survey published in November 2019 found that 67% of Americans supported a pathway to citizenship for those who remain in the U.S. illegally.
“Ironically, Trump, by making these very hardline immigration policies…has kind of really shown how morally suspect enforcement only policy is,” Hong says. “I think a lot of people are now very skeptical of the wall, of detention, of arrests, of ICE. And we’ll see how that translates into legislative will.”
But not everyone is on board. The same 2019 Pew survey also found 54% of Americans believed it was important to increase deportations, and pushback by some Republican party leaders on the 100-day halt has been swift. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has threatened to sue DHS if it does not rescind its “illegal, unconscionable deportation freeze.” Paxton argues that such a halt could be extended, and eventually become “blanket amnesty to the vast majority of the illegal aliens in this country with the stroke of a pen and without congressional approval.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has shared his support for Paxton’s threat to sue.
For Medina in Colorado, Biden’s move is welcome, but it is temporary. Despite Medina’s best efforts to avoid being detained or deported, he still ended up spending nearly a year in immigrant detention between 2019 and 2020, at risk of being deported. Medina was arrested by ICE after receiving a warrant for his arrest for missing a court date, a notice that Medina says was improperly mailed and that he never received. Though he ultimately did not receive a removal order, he still has a pending immigration case.
“I grew up my whole life being afraid and being intimidated by our government, by our policing system, by our schooling system, and I was just fed up with it,” Medina, who began organizing hunger and work strikes while detained in order to protest ICE and the privately run detention center, says. “I had to change because being afraid, being silent, being unseen hadn’t worked. No matter what I did I still ended up exactly where I was most afraid to be.”
When he was released from detention, he immediately began to participate in protests against the Aurora Detention Facility where he was detained, calling for the facility to shut down and for all inside to be released to work on their cases outside of detention.
For him, the 100-day halt is just the start of a nearly lifelong battle to find a pathway to citizenship.