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5 Things You Missed During Biden’s First 3 Weeks

by Madison Jarnot

Photo via the AP.

After all of the chaos and commotion surrounding the 2020 elections, President Joe Biden took office on Jan. 20 with little fuss. Since then, President Biden has signed tens of executive orders and memos relating to issues such as immigration, climate change, the carceral system, and racism.

The Insider understands it may be hard to keep up with the fast-paced news cycle while starting your semester, so here are five things President Biden has done since Inauguration Day that you may have missed.

1. Biden ordered the Department of Justice not to renew any contracts with private prisons.

On Jan. 26, President Biden signed an executive order which bars the U.S. Attorney General from renewing the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) contracts with privately owned prisons.

In 2016, the DOJ Inspector General found privately owned prisons have more safety and security-related incidents per capita than any federally operated prison. The Inspector General also found private prisons have a higher rate of assaults and altercations, higher rate of solitary confinement, and more administrative and staff issues. Many private prisons’ contracts don’t expire for years, so this change will be gradual.

Additionally, this executive order doesn’t impact any private Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts, and private ICE facilities are operating as normal. President Biden’s executive order also still allows the DOJ to enter contracts with private companies for post-incarceration supplies, such as electronic GPS tracking bracelets worn by people on house arrest.

2. Biden rescinded immigration policies created by Trump that allowed children to be separated from their families. 

President Biden’s Attorney General also issued a memo on Jan. 26 which rescinded the “zero-tolerance policy” for immigration offenses. The policy was written by former President Trump and required federal prosecutors to criminally charge every immigrant suspected of entering the country illegally. The zero-tolerance policy also allowed federal prosecutors to detain children separately from their families while their parents were awaiting trial. Some children were released to relatives or U.S. foster homes without their parents’ permission or knowledge.

Now, according to the memo, immigration officials will be required to “take into account other individualized factors, including personal circumstances and criminal history, the seriousness of the offense, and the probable sentence or other consequences that would result from a conviction” before charging anyone with immigration-related offenses. It will also require prosecutors to keep families awaiting trial together and reunite detained children with their families.

These efforts will take time as well. As of Jan. 13, there are approximately 611 immigrant children who were detained or moved under the zero-tolerance policy whose families have yet to be located. President Biden said he is creating “reunification task force which will work to find those children’s families, but it is unclear how long that may take. 

3. Biden sent a memo to all executive departments and agencies requiring them to strengthen their relationships with Native Tribal Governments and better honor Native sovereignty. 

The memo, which was released on Jan. 26 as well, requires each executive department head to submit a plan to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) within the next 90 days outlining how they plan to improve their relationship with Tribal Nations and promote Native Tribal Governments’ sovereignty.  It also requires department heads to submit yearly updates to OMB regarding their progress and plans.

However, there is little specific direction given in this memo, and thus it can be broadly interpreted by each department.

The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Chuck Hoskin Jr., said in response to the memo, “I think we’re on a trajectory of progress and better relations, but I also think there’s so much room for improvement.” 

4. Biden plans to increase local vaccine supplies. 

On Feb. 9, President Biden released a plan which aims to increase vaccine supplies across the country, as well as giving the federal government wider authority over vaccine distribution at the local level.

This plan includes a new “Federally Qualified Health Center program” that provides vaccines directly to Community Health Centers in U.S. These Community Health Centers provide primary care services to approximately 30 million people, most of whom live at or below the federal poverty line and/or are part of a racial minority.

This differs from former President Trump’s vaccine plans in that the federal government will be providing vaccines to Community Health Centers, rather than the federal government only issuing vaccines to states and allowing states to choose how to distribute them.

President Biden’s plan will also increase the vaccine supply to states, Native Tribes, and U.S. territories by five percent. He said the purpose of this plan is to “ensure all communities are being reached in the national push to get people vaccinated.” 

5. Biden signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to review the impact of their policies on the climate. 

On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order titled “Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.” Most notably, this order cancelled the federal government’s contract with TransCanada permitting the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. However, it also requires all federal agencies to review any actions they took between Jan. 20, 2017, the day former President Trump was inaugurated, and President Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, and consider the implications they may have on the climate.

Specifically, President Biden asked agencies to ensure all of their actions are consistent with the U.S.’s goals for reducing emissions, cutting pollution, and conserving energy. (The full list of federal regulations and goals agencies were asked to consider is available here.) 

The heads of federal agencies must submit a list of any actions they’ve taken which may be incongruent with these goals and their plans to change them to OMB within 30 days, and they must submit an updated list within 90 days.  

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