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Biden announces policies to rein in border crossings

He plans to travel to El Paso on Sunday, the first trip to the border region of his presidency

Venezuelan and Nicaraguan migrants are transferred by agents of the Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande river from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, to ask for political asylum on Dec. 27.
Venezuelan and Nicaraguan migrants are transferred by agents of the Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande river from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, to ask for political asylum on Dec. 27. (Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden announced plans Thursday to ramp up fast-tracked deportations and expand pathways for some migrants to enter the country legally, part of the administration’s efforts to rein in record-high border crossings.

Biden said Mexico had agreed to accept 30,000 migrants each month from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua — four countries he said now account for the majority of migrants crossing into Mexico en route to the U.S. border — who cross the U.S. border without authorization. Mexico has already agreed to accept some migrants from Central America.

In turn, the administration will create a new program that would allow that same number of migrants from those four nations each month to apply to come to the U.S. legally under a temporary immigration status known as parole, Biden said.

To qualify for the parole program, which would allow the migrants to live and work in the country for two years, they must have a U.S. sponsor and clear a security screening. Migrants who crossed illegally into Panama and Mexico, as well as those who attempt to cross illegally into the U.S., will be disqualified. That initiative expands upon the administration’s existing program to allow a subset of Venezuelans to enter the U.S.

Biden said this program “is going to substantially reduce the number of people attempting to cross our southwest border without going through a legal process.”

“My message is this, if you’re trying to leave Cuba, Nicaragua or Haiti, or have agreed to begin a journey to America, do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally from there,” Biden said.

Biden also pointed a finger at Congress for failing to pass immigration legislation and provide more funding to boost border security efforts.

He said the migration program will “make things better” but that the system won’t be completely fixed until Congress passes a comprehensive immigration bill. Until then, “I can act where I have legal capacity to do so,” Biden said.

Following the president’s remarks, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also announced plans to further boost consequences for migrants who enter the U.S. without legal permission.

Mayorkas told reporters that DHS and the Department of Justice intend to issue a proposed rule that would limit asylum eligibility for individuals who cross the southwest border illegally, without participating in an approved parole program and without first requesting protection in another country on their way to the U.S.

The upcoming rule, on its face, appears to mirror the so-called asylum transit ban issued under the Trump administration, which would have stripped U.S. asylum eligibility from migrants who didn’t seek asylum in Mexico or another nation they passed through on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. That Trump-era rule was struck down in court.

But Mayorkas told reporters that the Biden administration’s proposal “has no resemblance to the prior iteration of the transit ban that the Trump administration deployed.” He said the upcoming proposal would include exemptions for certain humanitarian reasons and also pointed to the legal pathways being made available.

The Homeland Security chief added that the administration will expand its expedited removal process for those who cannot be quickly returned to Mexico, including by throwing more resources at the process. This process allows migrants who recently crossed the border to be rapidly deported without a full immigration court hearing.

The administration will also attempt to take in more refugees from the Western Hemisphere, as part of the migration agreement reached during last summer’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, according to DHS.

Border crossings up

The initiative marks the Biden administration’s latest attempt to reduce the number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, which has increased in recent years amid political and economic instability in South and Central America.

Border agents logged more than 2.3 million encounters with migrants in fiscal 2022, and the number has continued to grow in the first few months of this fiscal year, which began in October, according to data published by Customs and Border Protection.

According to a senior administration official who briefed reporters earlier Thursday, daily migrant encounters have fluctuated between 7,000 and 9,000 each day.

Biden plans to travel to El Paso, Texas, on Sunday to meet with border agents, local officials and other stakeholders, in the first trip to the border region of his presidency, according to a senior administration official on the call.

The administration is also preparing for an eventual end to the so-called Title 42 policy, which since March 2020 has allowed border agents to rapidly turn away migrants who cross the border without considering their asylum claims.

The Supreme Court has halted a lower court ruling that would have led to the termination of the border expulsion directive, leaving the policy in place while the high court considers the case.

In anticipation of that lower court ruling later taking effect, the senior administration officials said the administration is surging resources to the southwest border, including by hiring more border agents as provided for in the fiscal 2023 government spending package.

Mayorkas said Thursday that the government could continue sending 30,000 migrants per month back to Mexico even after the Title 42 order is lifted by relying on the expedited removal process.

“The longevity of these programs is something that, of course, depends on what we are experiencing at the border and the dynamism, as I mentioned, of the migration challenge that is gripping this hemisphere, and quite frankly, the entire world,” Mayorkas said.

Meanwhile, in Congress

The high border numbers have strained resources at the border, and in turn created a political headache for the administration, which has faced criticism from Republicans and even some border Democrats over its handling of the issue.

Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin, a leader on immigration negotiations, said in a news release Thursday that he “strongly support[s] the President’s actions to clearly spell out legal pathways for migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean.”

He also laid blame on congressional Republicans for Congress’ failure to pass legislation improving the immigration system in decades.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, however, slammed the administration’s decision to expand border expulsions as “an affront to restoring rule of law at the border.” He also warned that the parole program would exclude migrants fleeing persecution who don’t qualify under the stated criteria.

“Ultimately, this use of the parole authority is merely an attempt to replace our asylum laws, and thousands of asylum seekers waiting to present their cases will be hurt as a result,” Menendez said Thursday through a spokesperson.

Immigrant advocates raised similar concerns about the “carrot-and-stick” style migration program.

“Opening up new limited pathways for a small percentage of people does not obscure the fact that the Biden Administration is illegally and immorally gutting access to humanitarian protections for the majority of people who have already fled their country seeking freedom and safety,” Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, said in a news release.

Biden’s remarks also come as a division among House Republicans thwarts the party’s ability to elect a speaker, with some holdouts citing border security as a top concern for the party.

California Republican Kevin McCarthy has been unable to secure the needed votes from his own party across multiple attempts in the face of opposition from members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus.

McCarthy has pushed for a hard-line approach to border security, including a pledge to pursue impeachment proceedings against Mayorkas and to not bring to the floor any immigration measures legalizing undocumented immigrants.

Colorado Republican Ken Buck, who supports McCarthy, said Wednesday he would support any speaker candidate who “has the same priorities that Kevin has expressed,” which he said includes “work on the border.”

But Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert, who has held firm in her opposition to McCarthy, has signaled she isn’t sure McCarthy’s approach is severe enough.

Boebert tweeted on Wednesday that she “was elected to secure the border, get spending under control, and fix our energy crisis.” Her opposition to McCarthy “is about making sure we have a leader that will aggressively push that agenda forward,” she wrote.

Texas Republican Chip Roy, another one of McCarthy’s opponents, unveiled a sweeping proposal last month with other members of the Texas delegation to tighten security at the U.S.-Mexico border.

That framework includes provisions to revive various Trump-era immigration programs, such as by completing border wall construction and forcing asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases continue.

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