Biden sets to work reversing Trump policies and unveils ambitious immigration plan
US president commits to rejoin Paris climate agreement and World Health Organisation
US president Joe Biden unveiled an ambitious immigration plan on his first day in office, pledging to present a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the country.
Speaking at the first press briefing of the Biden presidency hours after the inauguration, new White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the president had sent an immigration Bill to Congress. The US Citizenship Act “modernises our immigration system . . . provides hard-working people who have enriched our communities and lived here for decades an opportunity to earn citizenship,” she said.
Among the proposals in the act is an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.
The initiative marks a significant break with Mr Trump’s anti-immigration policy, and has been welcomed by groups representing undocumented Irish in the United States. But it will need agreement in Congress – a formidable challenge that has eluded previous presidents.
Mr Biden also revoked his predecessor’s 2017 ban on immigrants from certain Muslim-majority nations, and halted the construction of the border wall with Mexico.The new immigration initiative was one of several actions taken by the new president. Within hours of his inauguration, he had signed an executive order pledging to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. That paves the way for the United States to officially rejoin in 30 days. It reverses one of the signature actions of Mr Trump, who withdrew from the international agreement in June 2017, with the US officially leaving the compact late last year.
The landmark international agreement, which was signed by President Barack Obama in late 2015, introduced binding emission targets on countries in a bid to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius. But in a measure of Republican resistance to the move, GOP senator Ted Cruz denounced the action, claiming that Mr Biden was prioritising “the citizens of Paris” over the citizens of Pittsburgh.
“By rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, President Biden indicates he’s more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh. This agreement will do little to affect the climate and will harm the livelihoods of Americans,” he said.
Mr Biden also suspended contracts related to the construction of the Keystone oil pipeline, which has long been opposed by environmental groups. But other stakeholders, including the Canadian government and the US chamber of commerce, voiced opposition to the move.
As expected, Mr Biden also announced that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organisation, the UN body which elicited the ire of Mr Trump.
Outlining his decision in a letter to UN secretary general António Guterres, Mr Biden said that the WHO “plays a crucial role in the world’s fight against the deadly Covid-19 pandemic as well as countless other threats to global health and health security”.
“The United States will continue to be a full participant and a global leader in confronting such threats and advancing global health and health security.”
Mr Biden was sworn in as the country’s 46th president at a scaled-down inauguration ceremony at the US Capitol on Wednesday, bringing to a close four tumultuous years of the Trump presidency. His running-mate, Kamala Harris, made history as she became the first woman and person of African-American and Asian descent, to become vice-president.
Later the president appeared at a star-studded concert from the Lincoln Memorial, hosted by actor Tom Hanks, and starring artists like Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, the Foo Fighters and Katy Perry.
“It’s humbling to stand here in this place in front of these sacred words,” the new president said as he stood against the background of the Gettysburg Address sketched on the wall of the memorial.
“Humbling out of respect to President Lincoln and the office we now share and humbling because of you, the American people.”
Actor Lin Manuel-Miranda recited The Cure of Troy by Seamus Heaney, in a montage which included the new president reading lines from the poem he has often cited.
Three former presidents – Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W Bush – delivered a pre-recorded message for the event, which culminated with a fireworks display.
“We need to listen not just to people we agree with, but people we don’t,” said Mr Obama, acknowledging the “grace and generosity” Mr Bush and his wife showed the Obamas after his election in 2008. “Mr President, I’m pulling for your success. Your success is our country’s success and God bless you,” Mr Bush said, referring to Mr Biden.
Mr Trump became the first president in modern history not to attend his successor’s inauguration, instead flying to Florida on Monday before his period of office expired at noon.
Mr Trump, whose impeachment trial will commence in the Senate in the coming weeks, was pictured playing golf at his golf course near his Mar-a-lago home at West Palm Beach on Thursday.