Biden's Narrower Immigration Focus Frustrates Advocates The president rolled out a plan to overhaul the immigration system on his first day in office. Last week he shifted to talk about a narrower approach. Some advocates feel abandoned.

As Biden Shifts On Immigration, Some Advocates See Him Giving Up Without A Fight

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


On his very first day in office, President Biden rolled out a wide-ranging plan to overhaul the immigration system. Last week, in his address to Congress, he shifted his approach and said he would accept narrower changes.

NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has been hearing what advocates think about that change.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: President Biden, last week, conceded that the odds were stacked against his first immigration proposal. On day one, he pledged to create a way for 11 million undocumented immigrants to get citizenship. But now he's talking about a more targeted approach.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If you don't like my plan, let's at least pass what we all agree on.

ORDOÑEZ: He's looking at smaller proposals to protect farm workers and people brought to the country illegally as children.


BIDEN: Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for DREAMers...


BIDEN: ...The young people who've only known America as their home.


ORDOÑEZ: But some advocates are not cheering for this shift. Gema Lowe is an undocumented organizer of Movimiento Cosecha.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Spanish).

ORDOÑEZ: She helped lead thousands of demonstrators to Washington last weekend to protest the lack of progress.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Spanish).

ORDOÑEZ: They're chanting, "papers, yes, crumbs, no." Lowe says she wouldn't be helped by this smaller plan, and she feels Biden gave up too easy.

GEMA LOWE: Well, he said in his speeches that, oh, I fulfill my promise, and now it's off my hands. It's - the Congress now needs to pass it. So he's washing his hands by saying that instead of fighting and putting pressure to pass a bill, not just introducing the bill.

ORDOÑEZ: It was never going to be simple to pass a big overhaul in such a divided Congress. But Biden's allies warn their patience will only last so long.

SERGIO GONZALES: I strongly believe, and it's the belief of many of the people who are working on this issue, that this cannot be another let's wait until there's a better time...

ORDOÑEZ: That's Sergio Gonzalez. He worked on past immigration bills as a Hill aide and later for then-Senator Kamala Harris. Now he's director of the advocacy group Immigration Hub.

GONZALES: ...Because, unfortunately, there never is a better time.

ORDOÑEZ: He says Democrats must act now while the party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House.

GONZALES: We don't know what is going to happen in 2022. We don't know if there will be a different congressional make up.

ORDOÑEZ: The White House says Biden remains committed to his comprehensive plan, that it's not an either-or matter. But they want to see the Senate move on the two measures that have already passed the House.

Representative Zoe Lofgren of California was involved in crafting those bills. She insists Democrats are not giving up on the broader package. But in the meantime, they can get part of it done.

ZOE LOFGREN: Over the years, there's been an effort to do top-to-bottom reform to the exclusion of other, more limited measures. And the end result is nothing has ever passed.

ORDOÑEZ: Next week, Biden plans to have lawmakers come to the White House. They'll talk about roads, bridges, broadband and jobs.

Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum gets that Biden is taking a practical approach. But he also says Biden must show he's ready to put some real political muscle behind the fight for immigration.

ALI NOORANI: After infrastructure gets off the table, we need to make sure that immigration is the next issue on the couch at the Oval Office, and we're not there yet.

ORDOÑEZ: And only then, he says, will advocates know that the president is really invested, politically invested.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, the White House.


Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.