January 28, 2020 — In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden shared a vision for the country that is rooted in his Catholic faith: “Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, a saint in my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love. What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans? Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And, yes, the truth.”
In the days since, he has announced scores of executive orders and legislative plans to address the crises facing our nation.
“President Biden has taken important steps to support Americans most in need, to combat climate change, to advance racial equality and to protect the rights of migrants. We look forward to working with his Administration on a range of policy reforms in the coming years,” says Fr. Tim Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. “However, his commitment to codifying Roe v Wade and his lifting of the “Mexico City” Policy trouble all of us who care about the dignity of unborn children.”
“We will keep encouraging the Administration to work for justice for all people,” continued Fr. Kesicki. “The systemic change that the U.S. needs will require committed advocacy and prophetic action that transcends partisan divides.”
Here are the policies that the Jesuits are tracking and advocating for in the first weeks of Biden’s presidency.
- Federal Moratorium on Evictions Extended. Through executive action President Biden has extended the nationwide ban on evictions and forbearance on government-backed mortgages through March 2021. Although this provides temporary relief, a more permanent legislative solution is needed to prevent a housing crisis.
- Stimulus Plan Proposed in Congress. In addition to distributing $1,400 stimulus checks, this sweeping recovery plan would increase unemployment insurance by $400 through September, gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour and extend the moratorium on evictions and mortgage foreclosure until Sept. 30. It also expands the child tax credit program, a policy that we have long supported as an anti-poverty measure for working families.
- SNAP Benefits Expanded. President Biden signed an order which would allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 15% for those most in need, and asked the USDA to increase state emergency allotments, so that 12 million more households can enroll in the program. With nearly one in five families struggling to put food on the table, this relief is essential.
- Remain in Mexico Halted. Migrants applying for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border will no longer be subject to the “Remain in Mexico” program, which forced asylum seekers to stay in Mexico—often in unsafe, and during the pandemic, crowded and unsanitary conditions—while awaiting the outcome of their asylum applications. While we welcome the end of this disastrous policy, it is unclear what will happen to 20,000 people still enrolled in the program. We urge the Department of Homeland Security to rebuild infrastructure at the border so that immigrants, including asylum seekers may be processed into the United States in a safe and orderly manner, and to expand the family case management system as an alternative to detention.
- Most Deportations Paused for 100 Days. The administration will use this 100-day hiatus to reevaluate its immigration enforcement policies.
- “Muslim” Travel Ban Lifted. Implemented in 2017, this order suspended refugee admissions and entry to the U.S. from 13 Muslim-majority countries, including countries wracked by war and famine such as Yemen, Syria and Somalia. We thank the Administration for lifting this punitive policy, and along with our partners, JRS/USA, we call for increased support for refugees and asylum seekers.
- Citizenship Act of 2021 Sent to Congress. President Biden’s proposed immigration bill would overhaul the U.S. immigration system. Most notably, the bill provides a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. The bill also proposes much-needed reforms to the immigration courts, detention and application systems.
- Border Wall Construction Halted. The Administration has promised that no more taxpayer dollars will go into constructing a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, which was slated to become one of the costliest infrastructure projects in U.S history.
- Immigration Enforcement Policies Ordered for Review. This review of federal policy is a crucial step in protecting rather than punishing migrants without documentation.
Human Life and Dignity
- “Mexico City” Policy Revoked. President Biden has removed a ban on U.S. funding for international aid groups that counsel on or provide abortions. As a Catholic organization committed to the protection of human life and dignity from the moment of conception until natural death, we urge the White House to reinstate this policy while also increasing support for education, healthcare and poverty reduction measures for women around the world.
- Commitment to codifying Roe v Wade – In a White House Statement, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris affirmed their intention to enshrine reproductive health in federal law. While we support efforts to improve access to maternal and infant healthcare, we strongly oppose any entrenchment of abortion rights.
- No Renewed Contracts with Private Prisons. On Tuesday, the White House directed the Department of Justice not to renew its contracts with private prison corporations — with the eventual goal of eliminating private prisons in the U.S. While we welcome this reform, we urge the new Administration to reverse mass incarceration writ large by ending mandatory minimums, making sentencing reductions retroactive and investing in alternatives to incarceration.
- Federal Death Penalty Unaddressed. Biden campaigned on ending the death penalty, but he has not yet acted on the issue. Along with our faith partners, we call on the White House to issue a moratorium on the federal death penalty by executive order (permanent abolition must be passed by Congress).
- U.S. Rejoined Paris Climate Agreement. In rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, the Administration demonstrated its commitment to addressing the climate crisis. We continue to advocate for legislation that transitions the nation away from fossil fuels, builds sustainable infrastructure and supports communities impacted by environmental injustice—especially low-income areas and communities of color. Federal agencies will also review all the Trump administration decisions over the past four years “that were harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest.”
- Oil and Natural Gas Leases on Public Lands Ordered for Review. President Biden paused new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and waters and launched a rigorous review of all existing fossil fuel leases on public lands. The process will also consult with Indigenous tribes whose lands are impacted by energy permitting. This will allow the U.S. to shift its efforts toward investments in a clean and renewable energy future. In a separate executive order, he also revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
- Environmental Justice Council Established. President Biden established an environmental justice interagency council to address the racial and economic inequities exacerbated by climate change and air and water pollution.
- Just Transition Measures Strengthened. The Administration directed federal agencies to coordinate investments in and assistance to communities dependent on fossil fuel jobs, helping them transition away from coal, oil and natural gas.