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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President-elect Biden has an aggressive Day 1 immigration agenda that relies heavily on executive actions to undo President Trump's crackdown.

Why it matters: It's not that easy. Trump issued more than 400 executive actions on immigration. Advocates are fired up. The Supreme Court could threaten the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and experts warn there could be another surge at the border.

Where it starts: On his first day, Biden has said he will rescind Trump's Muslim ban through executive action and send legislation to Congress with a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants.

  • Biden is expected to use executive action to bolster DACA even as the courts consider its validity. It's unclear whether he will expand protections for more immigrants or add benefits.
  • He'll pause deportations for the first 100 days, stop border wall construction and create a task force to reunite immigrant families.
  • Biden "will work to ensure our immigration policies are reflective of our American values," Jennifer Molina, a spokesperson for the Biden transition team, told Axios.

Even so, it will be difficult for Biden to undo many of the policies Trump pushed through, uphold immigration law and pacify progressive Democrats and the immigration advocacy community, who will be far more critical of anything Biden does than during Barack Obama's presidency.

At the border, Biden has promised to end Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy, which forced tens of thousands of asylum-seekers from all over to wait for their court dates in Mexico.

  • But undoing all of Trump's strict border policies too quickly could leave the U.S. unprepared for a spike of migrants at the border. To mitigate large migrant flows to the border, the Biden administration is expected to invest in refugee programs in Central American countries.
  • Biden also will be under pressure to let in more refugees from around the world after Trump cut the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. by 80%.

Biden has notably not said he will end the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coronavirus-related emergency order, which has let officials almost immediately expel nearly 60,000 migrants at the border.

  • Temporarily leaving the order in place could help maintain some order when Remain in Mexico is ended, several immigration experts said.
  • Border crossings are already starting to rise. Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney who worked at the Justice Department under Obama, said it's "pretty likely" that Biden will have to deal with a surge at the border as soon as next summer.
  • Biden would want to avoid scenes of detained children and families that scarred both Obama and Trump, but he must keep order.

On DACA, Biden can easily restore the program by executive action — for now. But immigration advocates and experts are watching a Texas lawsuit challenging DACA's legality.

  • "What DACA recipients deserve is Congress to pass a pathway to citizenship immediately in the near year,” said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a leading advocate of immigration reform.
  • It's a tall order for a likely divided Congress — especially after four years of Trump's immigration crackdown that was widely popular within the Republican Party.

At DHS: Once confirmed, Alejandro Mayorkas — a favorite among advocates — will have to reshape one of the most politicized agencies under Trump.

  • He will need leaders on board at the immigration-focused subagencies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Any permanent leaders will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

ICE has become one of the most contentious agencies for its role in arresting and detaining immigrants.

  • Biden will likely reset priorities so agents focus arrests on immigrants with serious criminal records, as under Obama.
  • But John Sandweg, who ran ICE under Obama, said Biden will have "a legal duty to faithfully execute the laws" and "there’s still going to be a big disconnect between who the advocates think should be arrested, and the size of the agency, and legal requirements."

Go deeper

Biden signs racial equity executive orders

Joe Biden prays at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on September 3, 2020, in the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. PHOTO: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed executive orders on housing and ending the Justice Department's use of private prisons as part of what the White House is calling his “racial equity agenda.”

The big picture: Biden needs the support of Congress to push through police reform or new voting rights legislation. The executive orders serve as his down payment to immediately address systemic racism while he focuses on the pandemic.

Biden picks up his pen to change the tone on racial equity

Vice President Harris looks on as President Biden signs executive orders related to his racial equity agenda. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden is making a down payment on racial equity in a series of executive orders dealing with everything from private prisons to housing discrimination, treatment of Asian Americans and relations with indigenous tribes.

The big picture: Police reform and voting rights legislation will take time to pass in Congress. But with the stroke of his pen, one week into the job, Biden is taking steps within his power as he seeks to change the tone on racial justice from the Trump administration.

The week the Trump show ended

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Donald Trump was eclipsed in media attention last week by President Biden for the first time since Trump took office, according to viewership data on the internet, on social media and on cable news.

Why it matters: After Trump crowded out nearly every other news figure and topic for five years, momentum of the new administration took hold last week and the former president retreated, partly by choice and partly by being forced off the big platforms.