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Biden immigration order looks to counter GOP criticism

Trump, GOP lawmakers say president's move would change very little

Families board a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle at a makeshift camp in Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif.
Families board a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle at a makeshift camp in Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A new executive order issued Tuesday by President Joe Biden would limit migrants’ asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border and allow immigration officials to swiftly deport individuals who illegally enter the United States.

During afternoon remarks from the White House, Biden said congressional Republicans left him with few other options.

“I’m using the executive authorities available to me as president to do what I can on my own to address the border. Frankly, I would have preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation, because that’s the only way,” Biden said. “But Republicans left me no choice.”

Republicans were quick to lambaste the order for not going far enough to end what members of both parties have called a “crisis” at the southern border. GOP lawmakers contended that it would still allow thousands of illegal border crossings each day.

“President Biden believes we must secure our border. That is why today, he will announce actions to bar migrants who cross our southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum,” a senior White House official said on a Tuesday morning call with reporters ahead of the order being signed.

“These actions will be in effect when high levels of encounters at the southern border exceed our ability to deliver timely consequences, as is the case today,” the senior official added. “They will make it easier for immigration officers to remove those without a lawful basis to remain and reduce the burden on our Border Patrol agents.”

The order would not go as far as, but includes some provisions from, a bipartisan border security package the White House negotiated with senators from both parties — including lead GOP negotiator Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of the chamber’s most conservative members.

With Election Day five months away, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and other Republicans have been hammering Biden over what they call an “open border.” Biden has faced political attacks that bad actors are flowing into the country, bringing criminal activity, drugs and even terrorist attack plots.

Biden’s top aides have been pressed by GOP lawmakers for months to take action, and they’ve been peppered with questions from reporters about whether the president and his legal counsel had concluded that he had additional options for executive action.

Under the order, asylum requests from migrants at official ports of entry would not be processed if encounters with people entering illegally exceed 2,500 a day. The action is based on a presidential power dubbed 212(f).

Federal authorities have reported record levels of illegal migrant apprehensions for three consecutive years. And while those numbers are sharply down this year, the issue remains a political anchor for Biden.

‘A joke’

Senate Republicans largely attributed Tuesday’s announcement to election-year politics.

“This is like turning a garden hose on a five-alarm fire. And the American people are not fools. They know that this play is too little, too late,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor.

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, responding to the president’s expected actions ahead of the formal announcement, said Biden should not have changed the policies of his predecessor.

“President Biden and the Democrats have a press conference, and here’s what they’re announcing: He could have stopped this every single day of his presidency,” Cruz said. “When he signs this executive order, the only question anyone should ask is why didn’t you do this in 2021? Why don’t you do this in 2022? Why didn’t you do this in 2023?”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, called the Biden administration border security actions “a joke” and said, “You know what, I think we’re going to have to wait until January when President Trump comes back into office to actually see something done about it.”

Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, was not sold on the executive order before it was even made public by the White House.

“Spoiler alert: The ‘drastic border action’ is to legalize 4,000 illegal border crossings every day,” he wrote Monday on social media platform X. “Joe Biden isn’t serious about securing the border.”

But Biden at several points during his remarks contended lawmakers themselves are the ones who can truly assuage their remaining concerns.

“As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not willing to spend the money to hire more Border Patrol agents, or asylum officers, more judges or high-tech machinery, you’re just not serious about protecting our borders,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

“To truly secure the border, we have to change our laws in Congress,” Biden added.

The president also took several jabs at Trump’s policies as president and vague-but-hardline proposals he has pitched about a possible second term.

A Gallup poll released April 30 showed that more Americans, 27 percent, cited immigration as the top issue facing the U.S., followed by “government” at 18 percent and the “economy in general” at 17 percent. A Global Strategy Group survey released April 18 found that 52 percent of likely voters said Biden is ignoring border issues, while 50 percent said he has not been focusing enough on illegal migrants. Other polls conducted this year have shown voters giving Republicans higher marks on handling immigration.

The 212(f) authority might sound familiar: the Trump administration used it as the basis of the so-called “travel ban” for individuals trying to enter the country from a handful of Muslim-majority nations.

Trump often criticized Biden’s border policies when speaking to reporters outside his New York hush money trial, in which he became the first former U.S. president with a criminal conviction. He and his campaign team have kept doing so since the trial wrapped on Thursday.

“Joe Biden’s Executive Order is for amnesty, not border security,” Trump campaign national press secretary Karoline Leavitt said Tuesday in a statement. “This new order will facilitate the release of more illegals as quickly as possible with a smartphone app. The order also exempts minors from any enforcement, giving a green light to child traffickers and sex traffickers. … The border invasion and migrant crime will not stop until ‘Crooked Joe Biden’ is deported from the White House.”

‘Beacon of hope’

The senior White House official told reporters the order would “significantly increase the speed and scope of consequences” for migrants who cross the border illegally without a “reasonable” asylum request. To that end, when border encounters are high, Biden’s order would “strengthen the asylum system” by ensuring it is “not backed up by those who don’t have legitimate [asylum] claims.”

The president’s action does include carve-outs for children and those who have “legitimate” fears of persecution or torture if they return to their home country.

Trump, during a Sunday morning interview on Fox News, again proposed a massive deportation campaign of migrants if he is elected in November.

“I’m going to do the big deportation. The biggest ever,” he said. “You’ll get rid of 10 really bad ones and one really beautiful mother. … It’s always going to be tough, it’s not going to be easy.” After suggesting for months that he would use National Guard or even active-duty military troops, which would require a congressional waiver, for such an operation, he added a new twist on Fox.

“The way you get rid of them is the local police,” Trump said.

Leavitt, the Trump campaign press secretary, contended that Biden could “shut down the border … with a swipe of the same pen” — though she did not specify under what specific presidential authority he might be able to do so.

But she did claim that Biden “never will because he is controlled by radical left Democrats who seek to destroy America.” The senior White House official noted that it was Republican President Ronald Reagan who called the United States, in his words, a “beacon of hope” for migrants from across the globe.

Biden’s order also was criticized from his left. Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said she was “disappointed” Biden’s order was similar to a Trump-era immigration policy.

And the American Civil Liberties Union signaled its intent to sue.

“We intend to challenge this order in court,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “It was illegal when Trump did it, and it is no less illegal now.”

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