Biden announces major border strategy shift, expands Trump policy
The Biden administration announced a major shift to its immigration strategy Thursday, expanding the use of a Trump-era policy that gives border agents the power to quickly turn back migrants at the border while also creating new ways for people from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti to apply for legal entry into the U.S.
“Do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally from there,” Biden said in a speech announcing the new approach.
A record number of migrants have descended on the southwest border this year, stretching border cities’ resources and placing political pressure on the administration. Border agents made more than 2 million arrests at the border during the yearlong period that ended Sept. 30, according to Customs and Border Protection data, and Republicans have argued that those numbers prove that Biden is weak on border security.
Biden hopes his administration’s new plan will “substantially reduce” the number of people attempting to cross the border, he said. It appears the administration decided that turning back migrants from Cuba and Nicaragua — two countries that have either limited or refused to accept deportations of their nationals, along with Haitians — was an essential tool to lower the number of people arriving at the border.
The new policy allows up to 30,000 individuals per month from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti to apply to live and legally work in the U.S. through a humanitarian parole plan the administration had previously offered only to Venezuelans. Migrants can apply from anywhere, but must not cross the borders or Mexico, Panama or the U.S. without authorization. They will be required to have U.S.-based financial sponsors and pass rigorous background checks.
Migrants from the four countries will only be admitted to the U.S. if they apply through the new process, Biden warned. Those who attempt to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border will be turned back and ineligible for the parole program, Biden added.
To turn away people at the border, the Biden administration will rely on Title 42, a decades-old emergency health rule that allows border officials to immediately expel migrants without considering their asylum claims.
Prominent Democrats have criticized the policy, which the Trump administration implemented early in the COVID-19 pandemic, as a draconian measure that uses public health as a pretext to cut off access to asylum.
Biden has sought to end Title 42 but has faced legal challenges from Republican-led states who argue ending the policy would result in a surge of new migrants. The Supreme Court has ordered the administration to keep the policy in place until the justices rule on the GOP states’ lawsuit.
Though the administration has tried to end Title 42, in recent months, it began expanding the use of the policy by turning back Venezuelans to Mexico. Now Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians will be turned away under Title 42 as well, narrowing the ability of thousands of migrants to seek asylum. Mexico has agreed to allow U.S. officials to return up to 30,000 migrants per month.
“Certainly no court requires the expansion of the policy,” said Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney who led the legal challenges against Title 42 in federal court.
Confusion and anxiety has been building in Ciudad Juarez and El Paso over what appears to be the pending demise of Title 42.
In his speech Thursday, Biden seemed to acknowledge the contradictions in his administration’s approach. “We have a patchwork system that simply doesn’t work as it should,” he said. “The actions we’re announcing today will make things better... but will not fix the border problem completely.”
The only way to truly fix the border, Biden said, is for Congress to overhaul immigration law. A last-ditch effort on a bipartisan immigration deal in the Senate fell apart before Republicans took control of the House of Representatives this month.
The new rules for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans will remain in place even if Title 42 is lifted, Biden said Thursday. Migrants from the four countries would continue to be turned back to Mexico under Title 8, the federal immigration law that allows for expedited removal of migrants who are ineligible for asylum or are unable to prove a legal basis to remain in the U.S., he said.
But absent Title 42, U.S. and international law require officials to consider all asylum claims.
The Biden administration also said it would soon be issuing a proposal that would force those crossing without authorization to prove they are not ineligible for asylum if they did not seek asylum or another legal pathway to the U.S. before arriving at the border.
Immigrant advocates, who compared the proposal to a Trump-era policy, roundly condemned the new measures announced Thursday.
“President Biden and his administration are now actively pursuing discredited Trump policies like Title 42 and an asylum ban in an attempt to score political points at the border,” said Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project. “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.”
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Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, a group that represents migrants seeking asylum at the border, said the policies put “politics before human lives.”
Former Biden administration officials appeared concerned about the strategy.
“Asylum is a legal pathway. Replacing asylum access with parole, expanding Title 42, and instituting a new transit ban will deny humanitarian protections to the migrants who need it the most,” said Andrea Flores, a former White House official on immigration.
Still, some immigration experts saw the changes as a way to use limited tools available to handle the border.
“Here they are trying to do what they can, under executive authority, to both enhance enforcement but also open some legal pathways for migrants fleeing violence, political turmoil, and repression,” said Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “Whether the legal pathways are meaningful will depend on their implementation.”
The administration also plans to triple, to 20,000, the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. each year from Latin American and Caribbean countries. The refugee program is separate from those who seek asylum in the U.S.
The Biden administration expanded the parole program and the use of Title 42 at the border because administration officials believed the policies succeeded when applied to Venezuelan migrants, officials said.
The policies have reduced the number of Venezuelans who crossed the southwest border without authorization from 1,100 a day on average before mid-October to just around 100 a day, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokesman.
As of Nov. 30, more than 14,000 Venezuelans had been vetted and received approval to travel to the United States under the parole program. More than 5,900 had arrived lawfully as of Nov. 30.
Meanwhile, more than 10,000 Venezuelans were turned around at the border to Mexico in October and November, according to agency statistics.
The administration described its dual approach as a way to deter Venezuelans from taking a dangerous journey to the U.S. border.
The administration is also launching an online appointment portal to reduce overcrowding and wait times at the U.S. ports of entry for migrants who enter lawfully.
Biden will make his first presidential visit to the U.S. border on Sunday in El Paso after resisting Republican calls to do so over the last two years, according to a White House official. He will then travel to Mexico City to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the North America Leaders’ Summit from Monday to Tuesday.
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