Local immigrant and refugee service organizations are preparing to respond to what could be a reversal by President-elect Joe Biden of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

During the past four years, the Trump administration has taken more than 400 executive actions regarding immigration, including issues surrounding border enforcement, refugee resettlement and asylum system, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), immigration courts, and visa processes.

These policy changes have had a ripple effect on the operations of local organizations whose missions are to support immigrants and refugees entering the U.S. But these organizations are expecting Biden to have a new proactive approach to immigration.

“From the Biden administration, what we expect is the similar commitment [to executive action] but on the opposite end. We expect a commitment to migrant justice and immigrant rights,” Nancy Meza, national organizing director at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), said. 

The Biden campaign has promised to take action and undo Trump’s immigration policies by “building a fair and humane immigration system.”

During its first 100 days, the Biden administration has promised to end family separation at the border, restore asylum laws that increase access to refugees and asylum-seekers, reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and undo an array of Trump’s other immigration policies.

Biden also plans to increase the admittance cap from 15,000 to 125,000 refugees a year.

Because of this, Meza said RAICES is planning to alter its operations in order to respond to what they anticipate will be a higher demand for legal and educational services.

RAICES is hoping the change in immigration policy will prompt more people to volunteer with the organization creating a surge similar to what it saw in 2018 when families were being separated at the border.

“Back then we received hundreds of volunteers willing to support and we didn’t have the capacity to reach out to all of them,” Neza said. “So what we are getting prepared for now is structuring our volunteer program and our engagement program to absorb more volunteers, and put them to work where we need them.”

Antonio Fernandez, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of San Antonio, said the agency already has started discussing the types of support the agency will need to respond to an increase in refugee aid. 

Catholic Charities of San Antonio helped reunite families who were separated at the border in 2018. It also offers housing, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and other resettlement services for refugees in San Antonio.

“Right now, we’re just talking about, how do we prepare for that job? Do we need to hire more people? How is the budget going to be? Do we need to increase the amount of locations that we prepare services?” Fernandez said. “And we have already had conversations with people in Virginia and New York about [increasing] the funding.”

Catholic Charities of San Antonio President and CEO Antonio Fernandez. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Local organizations also are watching for the repeal of Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) the Trump administration put in place last January, which allowed U.S. border officers to send non-Mexican asylum seekers to Mexico to await approval of their asylum application.

Matt Neal, interim executive director of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, said prior to the MPP, his organization was assisting 100-200 asylum-seeking families daily. As a result of MPP and the COVID-19 pandemic, that number has gone down to as few as five families a week. 

In order to prepare for a significant increase in immigration to the U.S., Neal said the coalition will be calling on some of its partners to help provide services for immigrants.

“The biggest need we would have would be to really lean on our network,” he said. “If hundreds of people or even thousands of people are coming across at one time, there is no single organization that can handle that many people. None of us are big enough, so we have to do it together.”

Samantha Ruvalcaba

Samantha Ruvalcaba, who grew up in San Antonio, is a Shiner intern and junior at St. Mary's University studying international and global studies with a minor in communications.