New York: Getting to work soon after the inauguration festivities, President Joe Biden has signed orders for the US to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization (WHO) in the first set of actions to undo the policies of his predecessor Donald Trump.
He signed 17 executive orders covering also immigration and the fight against Covid-19 on Wednesday afternoon after he was sworn-in as president and Kamala Harris as Vice President.
Biden said that he is fulfilling “a commitment I made that we’re going to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord as of today”.
Trump had pulled out of the Paris agreement asserting that it placed an unfair economic burden on American compared to countries like India and China.
He also quit the WHO because it was being deferential to China, especially during the Covid-19 crisis.
Rejoining the WHO “will strengthen our efforts in strengthening global health,” his Spokesperson Jan Psaki said.
Biden also ended oil and gas exploration on federal lands and the laying of a pipeline to transport oil from Canada.
The first order Biden signed was for the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. It mandated the wearing of masks and observance of social distancing on federal government politics and on planes, trains and buses travelling between states.
Taking up immigration issues, Biden gave protection and work permits to those who came in as children and are in the country illegally. It would not help those who came in legally and stayed legal like the children of those on H1-B visas who can be deported when they become adults.
He issued another order ending the construction of the wall on the Mexican border that Trump had ordered to deter illegal immigration.
He was also sending to Congress an immigration bill that would give legal status to about 11 million people who are in the country legally and eventually citizenship. According to one of Biden’s election manifestos, 500,000 Indians would be covered by it.
The bill would not cover those legally in the country on non-immigrant visas like H1-B and can wait several decades for getting Green Cards or immigrant status.
Psaki said the immigration bill “provides for people who have enriched our communities and lived here for decades and offers (them) citizenship, keeping families together”.
“It would also “ensure America can remain a refuge for those feeling persecution.”
Biden also ended the so-called “Muslim ban” on visas for people from certain countries.
Although the media and the Democrats labelled the Trump action “Muslim ban”, it does not apply to all Muslim countries and was narrowly focused on countries that did not have a system to vet the background of visa applicants and also applied to North Korea.
Most countries with Muslim majorities or significant number of Muslims did not come under the ban.
Biden’s immigration measures are shaping up as caravans of several hundred people from Central America have formed and are trying to reach the US and several thousand people who tried to get asylum in the US have been made by the Trump administration orders to wait in Mexico while their claims are examined.
Biden will have to contend with them if they try to reach the US.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, to whom the papers to rejoin the Paris Agreement were sent, welcomed Biden’s efforts.
He said: “We look forward to the leadership of the United States in accelerating global efforts towards net zero.”
His spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that Guterres also welcomed the announcement of the re-engagement with WHO.
“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” he said.
On the immigration actions taken by Biden, Dujarric said Guterres found them “positive steps.”
He said, “The Secretary-General looks forward to working with the new US administration to strengthen multilateral cooperation in these areas. He also hopes to see the United States join the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)