By on January 5, 2022
On January 20, UUSC submitted a “report card” on President Biden’s first year in office (Part 1 | Part2). We assessed based on whether he met his human rights goals for the year, including the explicit promises he made on the campaign trail and in his first months in office.
So far, things are not looking good. Glancing over his work, we see that Biden has several major assignments missing. If he wishes to change these grades from “Incomplete” to “Passing,” he needs to take action now.
The good news is that it’s not too late. While these assignments are long overdue, Biden could accomplish all of them quickly, and on his own authority. We strongly advise him to take the following steps:
On the campaign trail and in office, President Biden repeatedly promised to restore the nation’s asylum system. Yet, after nearly 12 months in power, access to these life-saving humanitarian protections remains as limited as on the day Biden took office.
This is largely because Biden has opted to use the Title 42 policy—created by Trump—to expel people to danger without an asylum hearing. This is exactly the kind of blatantly unlawful and immoral policy that candidate Biden had in mind when he declared in 2020 that, “Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants.” Yet, in his first year as president, Biden in fact carried out more expulsions under Title 42 than Trump ever did.
If Biden doesn’t reverse course now, he’s looking at a failing grade. There is little excuse for him not to end the Title 42 policy immediately, because he has unilateral executive authority to do so. The only thing stopping him so far is a lack of political will to do the right thing.
Call It Genocide
When he took office, Biden and high-level members of his administration promised to help hold the Burmese military accountable for their vicious expulsion of the Rohingya ethnic community in 2017. Specifically, Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken promised to review whether or not these events constitute genocide.
Nearly a year into his presidency, however, that review has not been completed; nor has anyone in the administration provided a recent update on its progress. This assignment too, therefore, we must mark as incomplete. This is a major problem for at least two reasons: 1) Rohingya survivors’ effort to seek justice will be held back so long as major powers like the United States do not acknowledge the reality of what was done to them; and 2) the Burmese military—which overthrew the country’s elected government at the start of last year—will continue to commit further crimes against humanity until the global community acts to hold them responsible.
If the Biden administration wants a better final grade, they should call the atrocities committed against the Rohingya what they are: genocide under international law.
Revoke the Permits
In his first year in office, Biden allowed construction to proceed on the disastrous Line 3 pipeline extension—a fossil fuel project set to transport millions of barrels of sludgy tar sands oil across treaty-protected Indigenous land.
Biden proved at the start of the term that he had the power to choose otherwise. In his first months in office, he revoked the permits allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed, because he recognized that that project jeopardized Native sovereignty and the health and future of our planet. There was no good reason for him not to make the same decision about Line 3. Yet, after starting strong by canceling the Keystone project, Biden has since reversed course, and he is now set to approve more oil and gas permits on public land than Trump!
Surely this is not the administration that climate-affected communities were promised; nor can it be the legacy the president wants to leave behind. In the new year, Biden should get back on track. He must use his power as an elected official to halt further construction of fossil fuel projects on public lands that will ultimately burn more oil and heat the planet. Biden must deny or revoke the permits for new oil and gas infrastructure. Otherwise, he’s looking at poor marks on climate as well.
Fortunately, several of the key policy changes we want to see can be accomplished with a stroke of Biden’s pen. He can and must keep his promises.
Let us hope he makes some improvements.
Photo Credit: iStock—carterdayne