Top Legal Advocate Sees Hope For Maine’s Immigrant Community Under Biden Administration

PORTLAND, MAINE — 12/18/20 — Susan Roche is the executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland;. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Ever since she signed on with the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project 20 years ago, Sue Roche has hoped for comprehensive immigration reform.

Now, with roughly a week to go before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, the nonprofit’s executive director hopes the incoming administration can not only “reverse the damage” that’s been done the last four years, but reform the structural programs with the U.S. immigration system she’s been fighting since she started.

“I think what’s happened in the last four years really shined a light on all the problems and bad things that could happen under the system that we have,” Roche said.

Immigration has always been a political lightning rod, but it seemed to be the “highest priority” under the Trump administration, according to Roche. Federal immigration officials weren’t just trying to crack down on unauthorized immigrants, they “were really trying to decimate our entire legal immigration processes as well.”

Under the Trump administration, Roche saw federal agencies try to restrict families from gaining residency, make it harder for low-income people to sponsor family members to get legal status and make it harder for people fleeing persecution in their home countries to get asylum.

That trend should shift as Biden has signaled an intention to reverse several planks of Trump’s immigration policy. Biden could enact meaningful immigration reform through executive order, Roche said, such as reversing the travel bans affecting 13 countries, restoring green card and guest-worker programs, tightening the functions of immigration agencies and court processes, and resetting the country’s annual refugee admissions cap, which dropped to historic lows under Trump despite higher numbers of refugees around the globe since World War II, according to the Pew Research Center.

Biden has set a goal to raise the cap to admit 125,000 refugees annually, restoring the number to Obama-era levels after Trump capped the limit at 15,000. That would have an effect on Maine’s refugee population.

By Nick Schroeder for BANGOR DAILY NEWS
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