President Joe Biden is moving swiftly to dismantle Donald Trump's legacy on his first day in office, signing a series of executive actions that reverse course on immigration, climate change, racial equity and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The new president signed the orders just hours after taking the oath of office at the Capitol, pivoting quickly from his pared-down inauguration ceremony to enacting his agenda. With the stroke of a pen, Biden ordered a halt to the construction of Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, ended the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, declared his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization and revoked the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, aides said.
The 15 executive actions, and two directives, amount to an attempt to rewind the last four years of federal policies with striking speed. Only two recent presidents signed executive actions on their first day in office — and each signed just one. But Biden, facing the debilitating coronavirus pandemic, a damaged economy and a riven electorate, is intent on demonstrating a sense of urgency and competence that he argues has been missing under his Republican predecessor.
“There’s no time to start like today," Biden said in his first comments to reporters as president.
Biden wore a mask as he signed the orders in the Oval Office — a marked departure from Trump, who rarely wore a face covering in public and never during events in the Oval Office. But virus precautions are now required in the building. Among the executive actions signed Wednesday was one requiring masks and physical distancing on federal property and by federal employees. Biden's order also extended the federal eviction freeze to aid those struggling from the pandemic economic fallout, created a new federal office to coordinate a national response to the virus and restored the White House’s National Security Council directorate for global health security and defense, an office his predecessor had closed.
The actions reflected the new president's top policy priority — getting a handle on a debilitating pandemic. In his inaugural address, Biden paused for what he called his first act as president — a moment of a silent prayer for the victims of the nation’s worst public health crisis in more than a century.
He declared that he would “press forward with speed and urgency” in coming weeks. “For we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities — much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain,” he said in the speech.
But Biden's blitz of executive actions went beyond the pandemic. He targeted Trump's environmental record, calling for a review of all regulations and executive actions that are deemed damaging to the environment or public health, aides said Tuesday as they previewed the moves.
Another order instructs federal agencies to prioritize racial equity and review policies that reinforce systemic racism. Biden also revoked a Trump order that sought to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the numbers used for apportioning congressional seats among the states and ordered federal employees to take an ethics pledge that commits them to upholding the independence of the Justice Department.
The president also revoked the just-issued report of Trump’s “1776 Commission” that promotes “patriotic education.”
Those moves and others will be followed by dozens more in the next 10 days, the president’s aides said, as Biden looks to redirect the country without having to go through a Senate that Democrats control by the narrowest margin and will soon turn to the impeachment trial of Trump, who is charged by the House of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol.
Republicans signaled that Biden will face fierce opposition on some parts of his agenda.
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One of his orders seeks to fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, a signature effort of the Obama administration that provided hundreds of thousands of young immigrants protection from deportation and a pathway to citizenship. That's part of a broader immigration plan Biden sent to Congress on Wednesday that would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status.
The plan would lead to “a permanent cycle of illegal immigration and amnesty that would hurt hard-working Americans and the millions of legal immigrants working their way through the legal immigration process,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
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Even that familiar criticism seemed a return to the normalcy Biden has promised after years of disruptive and overheated politics. Hewing to tradition, Biden started his day by attending church with both Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress. His press secretary, Jen Psaki, held a briefing for reporters, a practice the Trump White House had all but abandoned in the final two months of the presidency. Psaki said she intended to restore regular briefings as part of the White House's commitment to transparency.
“I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy and for the role all of you play," she said.
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Biden took other steps to try to signal his priorities and set the tone in his White House. As he swore in dozens of political appointees in a virtual ceremony, he declared he expected “honesty and decency” from all that worked for his administration and would fire anyone who shows disrespect to others “on the spot.”
“Everyone is entitled to human decency and dignity,” Biden said. “That’s been missing in a big way for the last four years.”
Immigrants cheered President Joe Biden's plan to provide a path to U.S. citizenship for about 11 million people without legal status, mixing hope with guarded optimism Wednesday amid a seismic shift in how the American government views and treats them.
The newly inaugurated president moved to reverse four years of harsh restrictions and mass deportation with a plan for sweeping legislation on citizenship. Biden also issued executive orders reversing some of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies, such as halting work on a U.S.-Mexico border wall and lifting a travel ban on people from several predominantly Muslim countries. He also ordered his Cabinet to work to keep deportation protections for hundreds of thousands of people brought to the U.S. as children.
"This sets a new narrative, moving us away from being seen as criminals and people on the public charge to opening the door for us to eventually become Americans,” said Yanira Arias, a Salvadoran immigrant with Temporary Protected Status who lives in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.
Arias is among about 400,000 people given the designation after fleeing violence or natural disasters.
“It sets a more hopeful future for immigrants in the U.S., but it all depends on the Congress, especially the Senate,” Arias, a national campaigns manager for the immigrant advocacy group Alianza Americas, said of the citizenship effort.
Success of the legislation is far from certain in a divided Congress, where opposition is expected to be tough. The most recent immigration reform attempts on a similar scale failed — in 2007 under then-President George W. Bush and in 2013 under then-President Barack Obama.
Ofelia Aguilar, who watched Biden's inaugural address on TV with four other female farmworkers in agricultural Homestead, Florida, said she nevertheless felt positive about prospects for immigration reform.
“I am hopeful that he'll give us legal status,” said Aguilar, who was pregnant and alone when she came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1993. She worked in the fields for years before starting her own business farming jicama root.
“There is hope!” Aguilar cried out after Biden was sworn in. “So many people have suffered.”
Some of the farmworkers at the backyard gathering about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Miami said they were disappointed Biden didn't mention immigration reforms in his speech.
“I have faith in God, not in presidents,” said Sofía Hernández, an agricultural worker who has lived in the U.S. without legal status since 1989. “So many have said they are going to do things, and I don't see any results."
Hernandez came from Mexico, seeking economic opportunity. Her three children were born in the U.S. and she regularly sent money to her family back home before her parents died.
“My dream is to go and see my family and come back to stay with my children,” Hernandez said.
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In New York, Blanca Cedillos said she also was disappointed Biden did not mention immigration during the speech she watched with a half-dozen other masked immigrants at the Workers Justice Project.
“I was hoping he would say something,” said Cedillos, a Salvadoran who lost her job as a nanny during the coronavirus pandemic and now gets by with a few housecleaning jobs and a weekly food box from the nonprofit that offers services to immigrants.
Cedillos has lived in the U.S. without authorization for 18 years and hopes to eventually visit her four children in Central America, then return legally to the U.S.
“I have told them that that trip may happen now. Hopefully, if this new president gives me the opportunity,” she said.
Guatemalan construction worker Gustavo Ajché, who came to the U.S. in 2004, watched the Spanish language broadcast with Cedillos.
“I don’t want to get too excited because I might get frustrated afterward, like has happened in the past,” Ajché said. “I have been here many years, I have paid my taxes, I am hoping something will be done.”
In Phoenix, Tony Valdovinos, a local campaign consultant who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a small child, said he isn't celebrating yet.
He's among those who have benefited from the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.
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“It's hard to put your heart into it when these things have failed in the past,” Valdovinos said. “We've been beaten down so much.”
Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition in Miami, said she feels much the same way.
“I’m so happy and relieved, but we are still afraid of getting our hearts broken again,” she said. “We’ve been through this so many times, but we really need to bring through a solution that goes forward.”
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Los Angeles janitor Anabella Aguirre wants that solution not only for herself, but for her two daughters, both DACA recipients now starting their careers.
“Like thousands of mothers and fathers, I want for my daughters to have something better in this country,” Aguirre said. "We hope that today, this dawn, brings hope.”
Leaders across the globe welcomed the arrival of US President Joe Biden and the end of the often confrontational presidency of Donald Trump, noting the world’s most pressing problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, require multilateral cooperation, an approach Trump ridiculed.
Many expressed hope Wednesday that Biden would right the world’s largest democracy two weeks after they watched rioters storm the Capitol, shaking the faith of those fighting for democracy in their own countries.
Governments targeted and sanctioned under Trump embraced the chance for a fresh start with Biden, while some heads of state who lauded Trump’s blend of nationalism and populism were more restrained in their expectations for the Biden administration — and in some cases spoke nostalgically of the Trump years.
But a chance to repair frayed alliances and work together to address problems extending beyond any one country’s borders carried the day.
Biden “understands the value and the importance of multilateralism. He understands the importance of cooperation among nations,” said former Colombian president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos, who left office in 2018.
“As a matter of fact, if we don’t cooperate – all nations – to fight climate change, then we will all perish. It’s as simple as that,” Santos said.
French President Emmanuel Macron also noted the urgency of addressing the perils the world faces from climate change after Trump withdrew the US from the Paris climate accord, a move Biden was to reverse in the first hours of his presidency.
With Biden, “we will be stronger to face the challenges of our time. Stronger to build our future. Stronger to protect our planet," he wrote on Twitter. “Welcome back to the Paris Agreement!”
Elsewhere in Europe, close US allies finally saw a chance to come in out of the cold after strained security and economic relationships with the Trump administration.
An Israeli electronics store employee looks at a wall of televisions broadcasting live the 59th U.S. Presidential Inauguration ceremony, in Ashkelon, Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Biden became the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday. AP photo
“This new dawn in America is the moment we’ve been awaiting for so long,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, hailing Biden’s arrival as “resounding proof that, once again after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.”
European Council President Charles Michel said that trans-Atlantic relations have “greatly suffered in the last four years. In these years, the world has grown more complex, less stable and less predictable.”
“We have our differences and they will not magically disappear. America seems to have changed, and how it’s perceived in Europe and the rest of the world has also changed,” added Michel, whose open criticism of the Trump era contrasted with the silence that mostly reigned in Europe while the Republican leader was in the White House.
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In Germany, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued a video statement, calling Biden's inauguration a “good day for democracy.”
“Despite the attempts to tear at America’s institutional fabric, election workers and governors, the judiciary and Congress have proven strong,” he said.
With Biden and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris, Steinmeier said the US would again be a “vital partner” to tackle issues like the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, security issues including arms control and disarmament, and multiple conflicts.
In Ballina, Ireland, where Biden’s great-great- grandfather was born in 1832, a mural of a smiling Biden adorned a wall in the town, where some of the president’s relatives still live.
“As he takes the oath of office, I know that President Biden will feel the weight of history — the presence of his Irish ancestors who left Mayo and Louth in famine times in search of life and hope,” Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said.
Pope Francis urged Biden to help foster reconciliation in the US and build up a society “marked by authentic justice and freedom” and looking out especially for the poor.
The “grave crises” facing all of humanity call for farsighted responses, Francis said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who formed close ties with Trump, noted a “warm personal friendship” with Biden. “I look forward to working with you to further strengthen the US-Israel alliance ... and to confront common challenges, chief among them the threat posed by Iran,” Netanyahu said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has accused Trump of unfair bias toward Israel with policies like moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, expressed hope for a more even-handed approach from Biden. He urged “a comprehensive and just peace process that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom and independence.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose country has had a tumultuous relationship with Washington, having been criticized for aiding the Afghan Taliban, said in a tweet he looked forward to building a stronger partnership through trade, economic engagement and countering climate change.
In Latin America, Biden faces immediate challenges on immigration and the leaders of the two most populous countries — Brazil and Mexico — were chummy with Trump. The Trump administration also took a hard line against governments in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, expanding painful sanctions.
In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro's government urged dialogue with the Biden administration, while hoping the incoming president abandons the avalanche of damaging sanctions Trump imposed to attempt a regime change.
Some Venezuelans, however, like retired accountant Jesús Sánchez, 79, said he was disappointed to see Trump leave power. Trump backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó, giving Venezuelans like him hope that Maduro’s days in power were numbered.
Carlos Vecchio, Guaido’s envoy in Washington who the US recognizes as Venezuela’s ambassador, tweeted photos of himself at Biden's inauguration. The invitation to attend was touted by Venezuela’s opposition as evidence the Biden administration will continue its strong support and resist entreaties by Maduro for dialogue that the US has strenuously rejected until now.
Cuba’s leaders perhaps have a more realistic hope for improved relations: Biden was in the White House for the historic thaw in relations in 2014, and various officials expressed willingness to reopen a dialogue with Washington if there was respect for Cuba’s sovereignty.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel railed against Trump via Twitter, citing “more than 200 measures that tightened the financial, commercial and economic blockade, the expression of a despicable and inhuman policy.”
In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who cultivated an unexpectedly friendly relationship with Trump and was one of the last world leaders to recognize Biden’s victory, read from a letter he sent to Biden in 2012, calling for reorienting the bilateral relationship away from security and military aid and toward development.
He urged Biden to implement immigration reform, and added: “We need to maintain a very good relationship with the United States government and I don’t have any doubt that it’s going to be that way.”
For the opening salvo of his presidency, few expected Joe Biden to be so far reaching on immigration.
A raft of executive orders issued Wednesday undoes many of his predecessor’s hallmark initiatives, such as halting work on a border wall with Mexico, lifting a travel ban on people from several predominantly Muslim countries and reversing plans to exclude people in the country illegally from the 2020 census.
Biden is also ordering his cabinet to work to preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program known as DACA that has shielded hundreds of thousands of people who came to the US as children from deportation since it was introduced in 2012. In addition, he is extending temporary legal status to Liberians who fled civil war and the Ebola outbreak to June 2022.
But that's just the beginning. Biden’s most ambitious proposal, unveiled Wednesday, is an immigration bill that would give legal status and a path to citizenship to anyone in the United States before Jan 1 — an estimated 11 million people — and reduce the time that family members must wait outside the United States for green cards.
Taken together, Biden's plans represent a sharp U-turn after four years of relentless strikes against immigration, captured most vividly by the separation of thousands of children from their parents under a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings. Former President Donald Trump's administration also took hundreds of other steps to enhance enforcement, limit eligibility for asylum and cut legal immigration.
Biden's package dispels any belief that his policies would resemble those of former President Barack Obama, who promised a sweeping bill his first year in office but waited five years while logging more than 2 million deportations.
Eager to avoid a rush on the border, Biden aides signaled that it will take time to unwind some of Trump's border policies, which include making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in US immigration court.
It "will take months to be fully up and running in terms of being able to do the kind of asylum processing that we want to be able to do,” Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security advisor, told reporters.
The administration has been mum on a 100-day moratorium on deportations that Biden promised, though he is revoking one of Trump's earliest executive orders making anyone in the country illegally a priority for deportations. Susan Rice, head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said any moratorium would come from the Homeland Security Department, not the president.
Despite the deliberative pace in some areas, Biden's moves left pro-immigration advocates overjoyed. Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of United We Dream, called the legislation “the most progressive legalization bill in history.”
“We made it,” she said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. "We made this day happen."
It is even more striking because immigration got scarce mention during the campaign, and the issue has divided Republicans and Democrats, even within their own parties. Legislative efforts failed in 2007 and 2013.
More favorable attitudes toward immigration — especially among Democrats — may weigh in Biden’s favor. A Gallup survey last year found that 34% of those polled supported more immigration, up from 21% in 2016 and higher than any time since Gallup began asking the question in 1965.
Seven in 10 voters said they preferred offering immigrants in the US illegally a chance to apply for legal status, compared with about 3 in 10 who thought they should be deported to the country they came from, according to AP VoteCast. The survey of more than 110,000 voters in November showed 9 in 10 Biden voters but just about half of Trump voters were in favor of a path to legal status.
Under the bill, most people would wait eight years for citizenship but those enrolled in DACA, those with temporary protective status for fleeing strife-torn countries and farmworkers would wait three years.
The bill also offers development aid to Central America, reduces the 1.2 million-case backlog in immigration courts and provides more visas for underrepresented countries and crime victims.
The proposal would let eligible family members wait in the United States for green cards by granting temporary status until their petitions are processed — a population that Kerri Talbot of advocacy group Immigration Hub estimates at 4 million.
Unmarried adult children of US citizens who have been waiting outside the country for more than six years are just getting their numbers called this month. Waits are even longer for some nationalities. Married sons and daughters of US citizens from Mexico have been waiting outside the United States since August 1996.
The bill faces an enormous test in Congress. Sen Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said Wednesday that he would lead the Senate effort. Skeptics will note that Ronald Regan's 1986 amnesty for nearly 3 million immigrants preceded large numbers of new arrivals and say to expect more of the same.
In a taste of what's to come, Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, described the bill as having “open borders: Total amnesty, no regard for the health and security of Americans, and zero enforcement.”
To be clear, enforcement has expanded exponentially since the mid-1990s and will remain. Biden's bill calls for more technology at land crossings, airports and seaports and authorizes the Homeland Security secretary to consider other steps.
Biden warned advocates last week that they should not hold him to passage within 100 days, said Domingo Garcia of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who was on a call with the president.
“Today we celebrate," Carlos Guevara of pro-immigration group UnidosUS said Wednesday. "Tomorrow we roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
The government of Dubai on Wednesday ordered all hospitals to cancel nonessential surgeries for the next month as coronavirus infections surge to unprecedented heights in the United Arab Emirates.
In a circular sent to government-run and private health centers across the emirate, Dubai’s Health Authority announced that starting Thursday medical operations “may be allowed to continue only per medical urgency” as the city tries to keep its hospitals from becoming overrun.
For the ninth consecutive day, the UAE shattered its record for new infections, reporting 3,509 cases. The country does not release location data for infections, making it difficult to determine where in the federation of seven sheikhdoms has been hardest hit by the virus.
Dubai, its economy built largely on aviation, hospitality and retail, has remained open for tourism and business throughout weeks of skyrocketing cases. The capital of Abu Dhabi has retained tighter restrictions, requiring all who travel through to present a negative COVID-19 test.
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Daily infections in the country have nearly tripled since November. Tens of thousands of tourists flooded Dubai to celebrate New Year’s Eve and the holidays in recent weeks. The emirate mandates social distancing inside and masks outside, but otherwise a sense of normalcy prevails.
Overall, the outbreak in the UAE has infected over 260,000 people and killed 762 amid an aggressive testing campaign. The country's population, fewer than 10 million, is mostly comprised of young expatriate workers.
Meanwhile, Lebanon continued to grapple with record numbers as confirmed deaths surpassed 2,000.
The steep rise in infections and deaths in the small country of some 6 million comes despite a strict weeklong lockdown and as hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. The government will meet Thursday to consider whether to extend the nationwide lockdown beyond Feb 1.
For the third straight day, a record number of deaths from the virus was recorded with 64 more recorded Wednesday. That brings the total number of deaths to 2,084 and over 264,000 infections since February last year.