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President Biden’s first week of executive actions

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January 21, 2021

Yesterday, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. To begin his presidency he is signing a flurry of executive orders (EOs), memoranda, directives, and letters. The Biden White House prepared and the new president signed 15 executive orders on his first day in office, more than any of his predecessors. This all comes in a week when the United States surpassed 400,000 lives lost to COVID-19. On that note, President Biden made clear with a memorial Tuesday night that combatting the pandemic is his top priority for his administration.

Some of the planned actions are praiseworthy, as they accord with the convictions and biblical principles of Southern Baptists. However, some of the administrative actions raise concern for the ERLC as they conflict with our public policy positions, informed by our theological convictions. Below is a discussion of a few of the actions taken by the Biden Administration yesterday, and those actions we expect in the coming days:

Protection for Dreamers and DACA recipients 

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program that defers deportation proceedings for a subgroup of undocumented immigrants—those who entered the United States as children brought by their parents. DACA recipients are often referred to as “Dreamers.” Participants in the program, among other requirements, must demonstrate a commitment to education, employment, or service in our military; have no criminal backgrounds; and report for a biometric appointment with federal officials. The Trump Administration attempted to rescind the policy in 2017, but several lawsuits were filed shortly after the rollback began. In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration did not follow proper procedures in rescinding the program, and as a result, DACA was kept in place.

Yesterday, President Biden signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, to take all appropriate actions under the law to achieve the original goals of the DACA program. The Presidential Memorandum also calls on Congress to enact legislation providing permanent status and a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

The ERLC has long advocated for our government to provide a permanent solution for this special category of immigrants. We believe the only sustainable way forward, recognizing the range of beliefs about the legality of the DACA program, is for Congress to legislate a path to legal permanent resident status and, eventually, citizenship for Dreamers. Messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention of 2018 explicitly urged Congress to develop a “just and compassionate path to legal status” for undocumented immigrants already living in our country. Dreamers need a permanent legal solution that is not subject to the cycle of executives or the makeup of judicial benches.

Repeal of the Mexico City Policy

Next week, we anticipate that President Biden will rescind the pro-life Mexico City Policy. This policy was established by President Reagan to prohibit U.S. foreign aid to groups that provide or promote abortion overseas and has been a political football since President Clinton first rescinded it. The Trump Administration broadened the Mexico City Policy, and it is currently known as the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy (PLGHA). The purpose of PLGHA is to “prevent American taxpayers from subsidizing abortion through global health assistance provided for populations in need.” This policy ensured that, in order to recieve any foreign aid, international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) agreed to neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning overseas. PLGHA expanded the Mexico City Policy to “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies” to the extent allowable by law. This policy only applied to voluntary family planning assistance funded by USAID and assistance for certain voluntary population planning furnished by the Department of State. 

The ERLC has advocated for this life-saving policy, and would strongly object to its rescission. Yet this expected change will not deter us from continuing to advocate for life in our international engagement.

Family reunification task force executive order​

In 2018, the Trump administration issued a “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement approach intended to deter illegal immigration. The policy change resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents as they await adjudication. The children were kept in separate facilities and were unable to see their parents. While the refugee resettlement office at the Department of Health and Human Services made great strides at reuniting families, currently 628 parents of separated children are still missing. 

President Biden has signaled that he will create a task force to reunify families separated by the Trump Administration’s Immigration policies. The ERLC strongly supports family reunification and will work with the Biden Administration to see that children are safe again in their parent’s arms. 

Bostock executive order

Also yesterday, President Biden signed an executive order that seeks to implement and expand on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bostock decision. Last summer, in a 6-3 ruling of a consolidated group of cases styled Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of “sex” to be read to include “sexual orientation and gender identity” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which relates to employment discrimination. The order will likely direct federal agencies to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes where discirminaton on the basis of sex is prohibited.

Although styled as implementing Supreme Court precedent, this EO in fact dramatically expands the scope of the Bostock decision, which only applies in the employment context. This EO will mean that sexual orientation and gender identity could be treated as protected classes in a range of contexts, such as education, health care, and child welfare. This will, in turn, raise a host of religious liberty problems, many of which will likely have to be litigated. 

The ERLC will be focused on the regulatory actions taken by the Biden Administration and will defend the inalienable rights of religious freedom and freedom of conscience for those who hold biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality. Ensuring that these bedrock rights are respected by federal agencies will be crucial to the ability of faith-based organizations and people of faith to live out their faith and serve their communities without violating their consciences.

Repeal of the “Muslim Ban”

One of President Trump’s first actions in 2017 was signing an executive order to ban entry into the United States of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syrian, Sudan, and Yemen) for 90 days, of all refugees for 120 days, and all Syrian refugees indefinitely. In response, Russell Moore sent the president a letter outlining his concerns with the order, noting that the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirmed its decades-long commitment to care for and minister to refugees in a 2016 resolution

On his first day in office, President Biden signed an Executive Action to end the policy that came to be known as the “Muslim Ban.” The ERLC welcomes this action as Southern Baptist’s commitment to welcoming the stranger has long been reflected in the SBC’s resolutions about those fleeing persecution in their home countries.

Government-wide regulatory freeze

Finally, President Biden intends to issue a memorandum that will pause any new regulations from the Trump Administration that have not yet gone into effect. The ERLC strongly opposes this move, as the freeze may hinder lawfully promulgated regulations from becoming final, including several regulations the ERLC supports. 

As an example of significant interest to the ERLC, on January 12, 2021 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) announced and published its final rule on nondiscrimination requirements in grants. This rule directly impacts grantees, especially faith-based child welfare providers by allowing them to continue serving vulnerable children in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs. Due to the delay of the finalization of this rule, this important regulation may be frozen and not implemented. The ERLC will continue to advocate for lawfully promulgated regulations to be finalized. 

Looking ahead

Every election brings new opportunities and new challenges. The ERLC will continue to work with the executive branch to advance issues of concern to Southern Baptists and will bear witness to policies pursued by the government that run contrary to biblical principles.

Photo Attribution:

JIM WATSON / Getty Contributor