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Undoing Trump Policies Will Take More Than Executive Orders By Biden

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

President Biden already has issued 30 executive orders, many of which are aimed at undoing former President Trump's signature policies. Biden has halted construction on the border wall, rescinded the travel ban from majority-Muslim countries and recommitted to protections under the DACA program, which offers a legal shield to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Yale University law professor Cristina Rodriguez wrote about this in The Washington Post, and she's with us now. Professor Rodriguez, good morning.

CRISTINA RODRIGUEZ: Good morning to you.

MCCAMMON: So now that President Biden is in the White House and already getting to work on executive orders, how fast are things going to change?

RODRIGUEZ: Some things will change very quickly. The things that the president has the authority over, he can rescind right away. He can end the border wall emergency. He can restore travel from the majority-Muslim countries, COVID restrictions notwithstanding. But there are many things that will take far more time to undo because the president himself doesn't have the authority to do that. He has to direct other people to begin consideration of those policies and their rescission.

MCCAMMON: What are some of the things that will be the most difficult to change?

RODRIGUEZ: So it will take quite a bit of time to undo regulations that the last administration put into place. And there are a slew of them in the environmental realm, in the realm of health care and human services, in the Department of Labor. The system that has probably been the most affected by multilayered change by the Trump administration is the immigration system. And even though the president does have a considerable amount of power over the shape of immigration policy, a lot of work will have to be done at the agency level and at the line level to return us to a system that existed before the Trump administration and then to begin to create one that's even better.

MCCAMMON: So even though it will take some time, what kinds of real changes stemming from these executive orders will be felt in people's lives?

RODRIGUEZ: So with respect to some of the immigration orders, there's an immediate psychological effect. The confidence that people can have that the tide has shifted will make a difference in people's day-to-day lives. The DREAMers - the so-called DREAMers can be assured that this administration is going to fight for DACA in court if necessary, but also that it's proposing legislation to bring a permanent solution to the problem. And other measures like the rescission of the Keystone pipeline deal and the lifting of some of these visa restrictions will make an immediate impact in people's lives. But for things to really change the day-to-day operation of the system will take quite a bit of time.

MCCAMMON: And if you would, put those 30 or so executive orders in context for us. How often does a new president come in and automatically reverse dozens of orders from the previous administration?

RODRIGUEZ: This seems to be a bit of an unprecedented set of circumstances. Most presidents do come in and issue some executive orders, but 30 is a large number. And I think it reflects two things. The first is how diametrically opposed this administration is to its predecessor and how much the last administration did operate through various forms of executive action but also how central using the levers of executive power will be to this administration.

MCCAMMON: You wrote a book arguing that even though it is the right of Congress to legislate immigration policy, lawmakers have slowly delegated that power to the executive branch. Why is that? What is it about immigration, as you've said, that makes it so difficult to legislate?

RODRIGUEZ: So as my co-author Adam Cox and I point out in the book, there are a number of reasons to account for why the president and the executive branch have so much control over immigration, certainly a politically charged issue that historically has cut across both parties, dividing both parties. And it's been difficult to achieve legislative consensus. But more than that, the way that immigration law and policy have taken shape is through the build up of a massive enforcement apparatus. And you take that alongside the rise of unauthorized immigration of the late 20th century, early 21st century, and what you have is a system where there are many people here without status, not enough resources to remove them all and an executive branch that therefore has to manage that problem. And that has had the effect of giving the executive branch a considerable amount of control over the shape of immigration policy.

MCCAMMON: And briefly, you've also discussed the need for targeted reforms. What do you think needs to happen to change the system - in about a minute?

RODRIGUEZ: In a minute. So the most important thing is to shrink that zone of enforcement discretion. The legalization programs that the administration has proposed are essential to that. But the executive branch also needs tools for managing the growth of future illegal immigration or pressures that might arise on the border that come from different sources than the most recent causes of illegal immigration and a commitment to putting people on paths to permanent status to make immigration status stable and functional.

MCCAMMON: Cristina Rodriguez is a law professor at Yale Law School. She's co-author of the book "The President And Immigration Law." Thanks so much for joining us.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.