Some Democrats criticize Biden outreach on border policy change

Congressional Hispanic Caucus members plan to submit comments to ensure the migration program 'is equitable and accessible to all'

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., leaves the Capitol.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., leaves the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 6, 2023 at 8:11pm

Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocates faulted the Biden administration for not sufficiently consulting them before announcing a major border initiative Thursday that would allow some migrants to enter the country legally while expelling others under a pandemic border directive.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and congressional aides said the lawmakers, at a Thursday meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, took issue with the administration’s outreach prior to rolling out the border policies.

CHC Chair Nanette Barragán, a Democrat from California, said Friday that caucus members “made clear” to Mayorkas at the meeting that the caucus “must be consulted on all policies regarding the border and immigration.”

New York Democrat Adriano Espaillat, a member of the CHC, said in an interview Friday that he raised concerns at Thursday’s Hispanic caucus meeting that he was not consulted by the administration, as well as at a Friday morning meeting between Mayorkas and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which he is also a member.

“It’s a beginning, but I feel that it could have been even a stronger proposal had we been consulted, had the members of Congress been consulted, particularly members that represent border communities, as well as those that have been long-standing advocates for immigration action,” Espaillat said.

Aides for two other Congressional Hispanic Caucus members confirmed that lawmakers raised concerns at the meeting about the lack of outreach from the administration.

Barragán also said the group had “a constructive conversation” on members’ “agreement and disagreements on the border policy,” and that caucus members will submit public comments on the migration program to ensure it “is equitable and accessible to all.”

The “carrot-and-stick” program, announced Thursday, would allow 30,000 migrants from Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba to apply to enter the country legally each month. But it would also allow the same number of migrants from those countries to be expelled under the Title 42 border expulsion policy, which allows border agents to rapidly turn back migrants without considering their asylum claims.

The administration also announced upcoming asylum restrictions for those who cross through another country en route to the U.S. border, reminiscent of a Trump-era policy that barred asylum-seekers from qualifying for protection in the U.S. if they transited through a third country and did not first seek protection there.

The lawmakers’ concerns echo grievances aired Friday by immigrant advocates, including those who work directly with migrants in border regions.

Pedro Ríos, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S./Mexico Border program in San Diego, said Friday that he has participated in meetings with Biden administration officials over the past few years. But he said he felt there has been “a lack of acknowledgement” by the administration of concerns the organizations raised.

Ríos said organizations expressed concerns about the impact the Title 42 policy has “on the most vulnerable migrants that are wanting to to pursue asylum, but aren’t able to.”

Several advocates also knocked the administration for briefing reporters on the details of asylum policy changes before alerting nonprofits and other legal service providers along the border.

Eleanor Acer, refugee protection director at Human Rights First, said that immigrant groups have submitted “detailed recommendations” to the administration for border policies, and she would like to see “more meaningful engagement” from the administration with groups on the ground that help asylum-seekers.

“I think all groups working with refugees and migrants along the border, I think, have been repeatedly disappointed to learn about new policies and decisions after the fact, and often well after the press has been informed,” Acer said.

Capitol Hill blowback

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that officials “are going to continue to have conversations with members of Congress, with other organizations out there.” She also stressed that this is “just the beginning” of the policy-making process and no asylum rules have been finalized.

The administration also sent out a one-page fact sheet on Friday morning to congressional offices aimed at dispelling various “myths” about the new migration policies.

In the document, which was obtained by CQ Roll Call and confirmed by three congressional offices, the Biden administration cited as “myths” the claims that Biden “is choosing to expand Title 42 when he doesn’t have to” and is “shutting the door to asylum.”

The document also disputes the claim that the administration “is reviving Trump-era policies” and attempts to distinguish the administration’s upcoming asylum rule from the Trump-era version.

According to the document, the Trump administration “tried to categorically bar asylum in the United States for everyone, everywhere,” while the Biden administration “is creating safe, efficient, and legal pathways for immigration to the United States.”

The border policies have nonetheless been met with fast criticism among congressional Democrats. In a joint statement on Thursday, Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., said they “are deeply disappointed by the Biden Administration’s decision to expand the use of Title 42.”

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, and Illinois Democrat Jesús “Chuy” García, who chairs the caucus’ immigration task force, also issued a joint statement on Friday evening calling the policies “unacceptable.”

They urged the administration “to reconsider this proposal, and work in consultation with members of Congress and immigration organizations to find solutions that live up to our American values.”

Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro added on Friday that the policies, including the restrictions on those who transit through a third country and the eligibility criteria for the migration program, are “willfully dismissive of the realities facing asylum seekers and will deprive countless families of the legal right to seek refuge in the United States.”