Advocates in New Hampshire say they’re feeling a sense of relief -- and cautious optimism -- after President Joe Biden signed several executive orders Wednesday related to immigration and climate change.
Eva Castillo leads New Hampshire's Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees. She says she’s glad one of those orders calls on Congress to grant permanent status and a path to citizenship for so-called “Dreamers” -- the group of about 1 million young people who are undocumented and were brought to the U.S. as children.
Former President Trump had challenged the law that protected this group from deportation in court.
Castillo says there are roughly 400 Dreamers in New Hampshire.
“We have Dreamers that have been contributing to our society for a long time, without having any type of permanent status so this is great. It will give them some peace of mind,” she said.
For the last four years, the U.S. hasn’t felt like a home to Castillo. But, she says, “We have the chance now to reclaim our power, our presence and to really feel home.”
Biden also reversed the 2017 ban on travel from mostly Muslim and African countries to the United States. He’s also directed the State Department to restart visa processing for people from the affected countries.
Asma Elhuni, the movement politics director for Rights & Democracy New Hampshire and a Lebanon resident, says she’s close with her extended family in Libya. But when her brother got married in 2017, those family members couldn’t come to the U.S. to celebrate.
That’s because Libya was one of several Muslim-majority countries included in the ban.
“It has a real impact. They’re not just policies or executive orders that people hear about. They really affect people’s lives and keep people from seeing each other,” she said.
Sheraz Rashid is the secretary of the board of trustees of the Islamic Society of New Hampshire. He says the Manchester-based mosque is diverse, with members from Sudan, Iraq and parts of Syria -- countries that were all included in the travel ban.
A lot of community members, he says, come from places where “having an iron fist against their population was common.”
“Something like that here wasn’t expected,” he said. Many people, Rashid said, thought they had left that behind. He said Trump's ban created a sense of fear and worry within his community, and damaged the belief people had in government and the American dream.
But Biden's reversal, Rashid said, “brings some semblance of hope, back into this new administration that something like this won’t be tolerated or thought of in the coming years.”
For Elhuni, these orders are a good start, but she says she knows that immigration reform will continue to be a fight, even with Biden as president.
“Simply undoing Trump’s worst policies doesn’t fix the problem, and doesn’t address the root causes of the system that causes all this harm for so many people in this country,” she said.
Yolanda Huerta, a co-founder of Rise Upper Valley, said they are glad to see an acknowledgement in Biden's executive orders of the intersection between immigration issues, racial justice, pandemic recovery, climate change and more.
“We can’t split hairs anymore," they say. "We need to start moving, and moving in a collective. These things affect and impact all of us.”
Huerta says they especially appreciate the new administration’s nods to tribal issues -- including by reviewing the status of certain national monuments that were cut back under former President Trump, halting the Keystone XL pipeline, and pausing oil and gas extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Huerta says native voices are "crucial to how to understand the climate disparities that we currently have in America."
"Indigenous communities have been impacted by COVID at a rate much higher than white Americans have," Huerta said. "It's decimating the people that are fighting these environmental fights, these people that are safeguarding waterways and the quality of soil and air."
Like other activists, they say Biden's first executive orders are just the beginning of undoing Trump-era actions, and tackling the country's deeper problems -- including around other issues Huerta focuses on, such as farm worker protections and sustainable agriculture.
"I think that's where I imagine the celebration followed by a rolling of the sleeves," Huerta said. "We're left with a huge mess on all fronts."
Another day-one executive order recommits the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accords, under which countries have pledged to lower their carbon emissions and try to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century.
Tom Irwin, the New Hampshire director of the Conservation Law Foundation, said Paris alone won't be enough to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios - but the steps Biden took on Wednesday show he's serious about doing more, as a global leader.
"These executive orders send a signal that the Biden administration is committed to an energy future that is not wedded to fossil fuels,” he said.
Biden has also ordered a review of Trump-era policies that he says could harm the environment or public health, or weren't supported by science -- including fuel economy standards, methane regulations, energy efficiency rules and government formulas for calculating the true cost of carbon emissions to communities.
"The departure from science, the notion that everyone can have their own version of the facts, has been a huge barrier to meaningful policies to address climate change, protect communities from the impacts of air pollution," Irwin says. "It's terrific to see this administration focusing on science as the basis of its policies."
But he said this shift at the federal level doesn't absolve states like New Hampshire from taking its own steps to combat climate change. The scale of the crisis, he said, demands an "all hands on deck approach," which the federal government can't achieve on its own.