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Democrats condemn Biden administration’s new asylum limits

More legal pathways for certain migrants should not 'come at the expense of the legal right to seek asylum at the southern border,' they say

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a news conference Thursday outside the Capitol to call for the reversal of the Biden administration’s Title 42 expansion and proposed asylum transit ban. Also appearing from right, are Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a news conference Thursday outside the Capitol to call for the reversal of the Biden administration’s Title 42 expansion and proposed asylum transit ban. Also appearing from right, are Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Nearly 80 congressional Democrats called on President Joe Biden to reverse plans to limit asylum eligibility for some migrants, part of mounting criticism in the Capitol from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle of the administration’s border policies.

In a letter published Thursday, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and more than 70 other Democrats told Biden they had “great concerns” about a series of recent migration initiatives aimed at reducing the numbers of migrants crossing the border.

“Now, we recognize that the United States is experiencing a difficult migration challenge at the southern border,” Menendez said at a press conference Thursday morning outside the Capitol. “But as elected officials, we are duty bound to propose legal solutions, ones that protect asylum-seekers while also securing the safe removal of migrants who have no legal claim to stay in the United States.”

In their letter to Biden, the Democrats took particular issue with the Biden administration’s recent policy that allows 30,000 migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti to enter the U.S. each month under a temporary immigration status, but also allow the same number to be expelled from the country under a pandemic directive known as Title 42.

While the lawmakers wrote that they “applaud the creation” of additional legal pathways for migrants from those nations to seek protection, they said it “is disappointing that these pathways come at the expense of the legal right to seek asylum at the southern border.”

The lawmakers also urged the administration to rethink its stated plans to soon issue a proposed rule that would restrict asylum eligibility for migrants who pass through a third country en route to the U.S.-Mexico border and fail to seek asylum there.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has insisted the forthcoming rule will be distinct from the so-called asylum transit ban issued under the Trump administration, which was struck down in court.

But the Democrats wrote there is no evidence that conditions in third countries south of the border, like Guatemala and Mexico, are safe enough for migrants to seek protection. They urged the administration to “engage quickly and meaningfully with members of Congress to find ways to adequately address migration to our southern border that do not include violating asylum law and our international obligations.”

Other senators who signed the letter are Sen. Alex Padilla of California, who leads the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, as well as Sens. Mazie K. Hirono and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch of Vermont, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Tina Smith of Minnesota.

Notably missing, however, are any members of Senate Democratic leadership, including Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.

The letter marks the latest example of pushback the Biden administration has received from members of its own party over immigration issues. Earlier this month, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus faulted Mayorkas for failing to consult with them before announcing the migration initiative.

More than 160 faith-based organizations also sent a letter earlier this week to Biden and other officials urging the administration to abandon its plans to issue the asylum restrictions.

Meanwhile, the administration is also under consistent fire from congressional Republicans over the record-high migration levels at the southwest border. In December, agents logged more than 250,000 encounters with migrants at the border, setting a new record.

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security released some data showing a significant decline in the number of migrants encountered from the four countries included in the recent migration program, which was rolled out three weeks ago.

In a statement, Mayorkas credited the “carrot-and-stick” style migration program for the decline.

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