Protections for immigrants, more help for the state and for people reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, and a full U.S. census count of all residents are just some of the provisions of executive orders President Joe Biden signed during his first days in office that will impact New Jersey.
In his first 48 hours in office last week, Biden signed some 30 orders, many undoing changes made by President Donald Trump. Most of Biden’s moves last week have the potential for helping at least some in New Jersey, even if in only small ways, while others will have a direct and meaningful impact on residents’ lives.
On Friday, Biden signed an order implementing a number of financial assistance measures to help those struggling through the pandemic. Among its provisions, the order asks the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand and extend benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which about 791,000 New Jerseyans receive, and requests the Treasury Department to speed stimulus payments to those who have not yet received them.
The president also issued an order that extends the pause on federal student loan payments without interest accruing through Sept. 30 for the hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans with outstanding loan debt.
Support for new immigration policies
Five of the orders deal with immigration policies and include ending construction of a wall along the border with Mexico and aggressive efforts by federal immigration officials to find and deport undocumented immigrants. The latter policy had ensnared some of New Jersey’s estimated 475,000 undocumented residents, tearing individuals who had lived in the U.S. for decades away from their families, and leaving others fearful. Another order cheered by immigrant advocates strengthens protections for those “dreamers” given temporary permission to stay in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. About 17,000 are believed to live in New Jersey.
Olga Armas, a member of the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New Jersey, applauded the “welcome departure from the racism and xenophobia of the Trump era” that Biden signaled through his orders and call for a path to citizenship for the undocumented and immigration reform. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is going to be a lead sponsor of that bill.
“Immigrants like me across the country can begin a new chapter,” Armas said. “We are here because we fought tirelessly for our dignity. We mobilized, we went to the courts and we helped our citizen brothers and sisters get to the ballot box. After years of family separation, living under fear of deportation and being terrorized by our government, we celebrate our resistance, we welcome the Biden administration and together, we turn a new page. Now we begin repairing the damage and pain our communities have endured.”
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th) also cheered Biden’s lifting of the ban on individuals from Muslim-majority countries entering the U.S., saying it was one of the policies that influenced her to run for Congress in 2018.
“President Biden’s executive action to reverse the Muslim Ban marks a return to decency and American values,” said Sherill, who co-sponsored legislation last year to limit the president’s authority to restrict foreign nationals from entering the country. “The Muslim community is part of the fabric of the United States. In New Jersey, our Muslim neighbors and friends bring us together in times of tragedy and celebration. I welcome this renewed commitment to religious freedom.”
Another order Biden signed reverses Trump’s attempt to apportion the U.S. House of Representatives based on a count of only legal residents of the country, requiring the U.S. Census Bureau to provide him with a count of all residents, as the Constitution demands. A host of groups had challenged Trump’s effort in the courts, and the state stood to lose one representative had undocumented immigrants been excluded from the count. Normally, the census counts would have been completed before Biden took office, but the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump’s insistence on a count without the undocumented, delayed the final tally.
Combating sexual, gender, racial discrimination
“The Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality,” the latter order states. “By advancing equity across the Federal Government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone … Each agency must assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups. Such assessments will better equip agencies to develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all.”
Biden, Murphy’s pandemic response
While campaigning, Biden had pledged an aggressive approach to attacking COVID-19, and he has put in place a number of orders doing that. One requires federal workers and those visiting federal buildings and lands to wear a mask and socially distance, while another requires mask-wearing by travelers in airports and on airplanes, trains, ferries, buses and other public transportation.
The president also signed an order that allows governors to use National Guard forces to help respond to the pandemic and receive full reimbursement for those costs, as well as 100% of the cost of personal protective equipment and disinfection services and supplies “to provide for the safe opening and operation of eligible schools, child-care facilities, healthcare facilities, non-congregate shelters, domestic violence shelters, transit systems and other eligible applicants.”
Speaking Friday during a briefing on the pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state has been using National Guard and would welcome getting full reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, given the state has had to pay 25% of the costs to date.
“We’ve been digging out from the last administration,” he said. “We would welcome the opportunity. If there’s a way to fund that more aggressively, that would be great. We will certainly pursue that.”
Addressing coastal issues
Biden also issued orders related to the environment, that included rejoining the Paris Agreement and using science to dictate environmental decisions around climate change. As a coastal state, New Jersey has many areas in danger of being swamped by rising sea levels, as well as the largest number of affordable housing units in the path of floods of any coastal state.
“The Biden Administration realizes it’s no longer up for discussion, we are facing a climate emergency and they plan to take bold action, which begins with reentering the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “It’s important that the United States join other nations to drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions and co-pollutants.”