President Joe Biden was lauded a year ago for being the first president to directly address white supremacy as one of the country’s major crises during his inaugural address. He repudiated white supremacy and called for racial justice “400 years in the making.” But one year later, advocates say his administration has fallen short of the promises he made to Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
Before he was elected, Biden promised Black and brown people he would close the racial wealth gap, tackle racial inequity in the education system, address environmental justice, and make the right to vote equal for all Black Americans.
“Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me,” Biden said during a victory speech on Nov. 7, 2020. “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”
Now, as Biden heads into his second year in office, advocates are looking back at the promises the president has made to marginalized communities and are evaluating how far the president still has to go to honor his commitments.
Passing sweeping legislation
In June 2021, the Biden administration released a plan to narrow the racial wealth gap and build Black wealth. But in recent months, Biden’s attempts to close the racial wealth gap have been stifled by members of his own party. Moderate Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have crushed many of his reforms that would have greatly benefited Black and brown communities. Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which failed to pass the Senate, would have directly helped Black and Latinx communities by extending the child tax credit, lowering the cost of prescription medications, increasing the maximum Pell Grant by $550 and expanding access for DREAMers, and reducing poverty. But, when West Virginia Sen. Manchin announced he would vote against the package in December 2021, Biden’s biggest hope for Black Americans was deemed dead.
Biden still hasn’t gotten enough support to pass voting rights legislation, namely the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, that would restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s requirement for the federal government to approve certain states’ changes to their voting laws. Similarly, the Freedom to Vote Act, which would expand voting by mail and make Election Day a national holiday, has yet to gain the support necessary. While Carlos Moreno, the senior campaign strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union says he believes Biden’s desire to pass these reforms comes from a “genuine and meaningful place,” the tied legislature in Congress creates obstacles that are difficult to get around.
“We have to face the real obstacles that are in front of us,” said Moreno. “I know that [Biden] has been making a good faith effort in that regard, but it is what it is right now in Congress.”
Now that the sweeping legislation is “dead in the water,” Moreno says there are core provisions the Biden administration should take a closer look at and pass.
“[The Biden administration] needs to make [the child tax credits] permanent and fully refundable to make sure folks are able to plan a little bit better ahead for their futures,” Moreno said.
Student loan forgiveness
The Biden administration has also reneged on student loan forgiveness. Biden proposed $10,000 in student loan forgiveness for some borrowers during his campaign but has not yet followed through. Amid growing calls to forgive $50,000 in student loan debt last year, Biden said, “I will not make that happen.” More recently, the Department of Education, which paused student loan payments in March 2020 due to the pandemic, recently announced it would resume extended payments beginning May 1. The move came after widespread criticism over the department’s initial attempts to resume payments in February.
“We just need action from him on this issue, and that’s particularly important for Black Americans who shoulder a huge, disproportionate amount of debt compared to whites,” Moreno said. “Passing student loan forgiveness, which I think he has the authority to do, would really help folks that have been steered to more expensive debt products in different ways through algorithmic bias or deceptive practices, folks that really need that sort of relief at this moment in time.”
Appealing to moderates
With the midterms around the corner and the pushback from the moderate members of his party, Biden has attempted to appeal to more moderate voters, which has prevented some of his most progressive reforms from moving forward.
“When you look at the upcoming midterms, or Biden’s promises on the campaign trail, I think a lot of these promises are in jeopardy,” Moreno.
In another apparent appeal to moderates, Biden has failed to push for additional stimulus checks—which disproportionately helped BIPOC and low-income communities who took major financial hits during the pandemic. In March 2021, Biden ended the much needed stimulus checks for 16 million recipients in the middle of a pandemic that has left Black communities disproportionately vulnerable to eviction. Moreno says it is a critical moment for the administration to pass affordable housing legislation to make sure people “don’t get swallowed under” mounting rent payments.
While the Biden administration has made accommodations to appease moderate party members economically, his immigration policies have continued and expanded Trump-era policies that directly harm Black and brown migrants. The Biden administration’s reinstatement and expansion of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy harms already vulnerable migrants and asylum-seekers. The “Remain in Mexico” policy forces asylum-seekers to await their asylum hearings from perilous conditions in Mexico. The policy now applies to seekers from Haiti as well as Spanish-speaking countries in the Western hemispheres.
Biden’s use of Title 42 of the U.S. Code, which cites health mitigation in the midst of a pandemic as reason to block asylum-seekers from entering the U.S., most drastically impacts Haitian migrants who are seeking refuge after their homes were ravaged by natural disasters and political turmoil. Between Biden’s inauguration and January of this year, his administration has expelled more than 15,300 Haitians back to Haiti. Advocates from Human Rights First call the continuation of Stephen Miller’s Title 42 of the U.S. Code to block asylum seekers from requesting protection at U.S. ports of entry and to expel people seeking refuge without access to the U.S. asylum system “shameful.” The administration is currently defending the policy in federal court.
“I find that Black Americans are often at the chopping block, or given crumbs or an afterthought,” said Ronald Claude, the director of policy and advocacy for Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “When I think of Title 42, Black migrants face the consequences of those policies. When I think of the one-year mark, unfortunately, I am very disappointed because a lot of the campaign promises haven’t been carried out.”
Claude said Black migrants have benefited very little from Biden’s policies. While Biden’s Build Back Better bill would have provided relief for some, the “criminal carve out” would exclude migrants who have a criminal record from receiving relief.
“We aren’t at the forefront of importance for these policies,” Claude said. “When in fact during this whole pandemic we were on the front lines, we were the essential workers.”
Claude hopes the Biden administration “honors their words” this year and fights for Black migrants. Now that midterm elections are approaching, Claude knows the administration will return to communities of color for support, as they have helped win elections in the past.
“They’re going to come back to our community. We’re questioning our support and what are they going to show for it?” Claude said. “If you’re going to honor the promises you made, it starts with coming with a more inclusive, unified approach to all our issues and not trying to silo them and trying to one-off them or separate which camps they are because they impact us all.”
Moving forward, Moreno hopes Biden attempts to take smaller steps in his attempts to close the racial wealth gap—one of Biden’s biggest promise to Black and brown Americans. Moreno notes that legislation at the federal level like baby bonds, which are currently being championed by Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Cory Booker, would help to minimize the racial wealth gap by creating trust accounts for low-income children that would help build assets to create a “nest egg” for when they get older. The funds would ideally help those children start a business, purchase a home, or pay for their education when they got older. Biden has not yet voiced an opinion on the baby bonds.