Children play in the makeshift shelter camps for Central American migrants while waiting for U.S. authorities to allow them to enter to begin their process of asylum into the country, on March 26, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Francisco Vega/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday announced dual immigration strategies that would increase expulsions of migrants who attempt to cross the Southern border while expanding opportunities for migrants from several countries to legally enter the United States.
But the sweeping new immigration plan brought condemnation from advocates who said he should not broaden the controversial Trump-era Title 42 policy, now under review at the U.S. Supreme Court, to expel any migrants.
Biden is planning to make his first visit to the U.S.- Mexico border on Sunday, in El Paso, Texas, where he will get an overview of border enforcement operations and meet with local officials and community leaders.
Speaking at the White House Thursday with Vice President Kamala Harris at his side, Biden framed the moves as a balancing act to make the U.S. an asylum for migrants in need while also operating in a rational and “orderly process.”
In an attempt to limit migration at the border, the Biden approach will allow up to 30,000 migrants each month from Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua who have U.S.-based financial sponsors and have passed a background check to enter the country legally. They would be allowed to work temporarily for two years.
However, migrants who do not follow those procedures and try to cross the border without authorization will be immediately expelled to Mexico.
The administration will use both the Title 42 policy, enacted as an emergency health policy at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and a more general expedited removal process that allows the U.S. to deport a migrant without a court hearing if the individual does not seek asylum or cannot prove a legitimate fear of persecution.
Title 42 allows officials to expel any noncitizen during a health crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic. Biden has said he opposes it, but the U.S. Supreme Court late last year blocked an administration effort to undo it. The court will hear another case affecting the policy’s future in February.
If Title 42 cannot be used, the administration will rely on other immigration authorities, Biden and the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.
Modeled after earlier program
The move to expand immigration is modeled after a parole program that had previously only applied to Venezuelan and Ukrainian nationals.
In October, the Biden administration made an agreement with Mexico to allow up to 24,000 qualifying Venezuelans who have preexisting U.S. ties for financial sponsorship to travel by air to a port of entry, while also having Mexico agree to take back any Venezuelans who came over to the U.S. without authorization.
Biden said Thursday that migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela account for most of the people traveling into Mexico to come to the U.S. because they are fleeing violence, economic crisis, and political instability.
Biden said the move to expand immigration was consistent with a U.S. tradition of accepting immigrants seeking a better life. His own Irish ancestors took advantage of that tradition, he said.
“Can’t blame them for wanting to do it,” Biden said. “They flee oppression to the freest nation in the world. They chase their own American dream.”
“I think it is a human right if your family’s being persecuted,” Biden said of migration to the United States. “The other side of this is there’s also the people in this country have basic rights that are here. Basic, fundamental rights to assure that people who are coming have been checked out, they’re not criminals.”
Biden said he disapproves of Title 42, instituted by his predecessor, Donald Trump, as a way to speed up expulsions during the pandemic, but would continue to use it.
However, immigration groups criticized the plan because migrants seeking to enter the country without first applying for the expanded parole program would be turned away.
“We are deeply disappointed at Biden’s shameful expansion of Trump’s Title 42 policy, which further cements his predecessor’s anti-immigrant legacy,” Layla Razavi, the interim executive director of the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants, said in a statement.
“The Biden administration should be working to restore and strengthen our asylum system, not eroding what has been a vital lifeline for so many in our communities.”
Other critics said the prohibition on arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border also amounted to an illegal transit ban.
“Their decision to create an unlawful transit ban erases the words and values etched in the Statute of Liberty,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said.
“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.”
Need for larger reform
Biden acknowledged the administration’s policy changes were insufficient to address immigration, which he said should be addressed more broadly by Congress, which has done little in recent years to change immigration policy amid deep partisan disagreements.
The system doesn’t have enough immigration personnel, including judges, to process legal immigration claims, he said. Congress rejected his request for an additional $3.5 billion to fund such positions, he said.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a Thursday statement that he “strongly supports” the Biden policy changes and blamed congressional Republicans for blocking comprehensive updates.
“Congressional Republicans who have repeatedly obstructed bipartisan immigration reform leave President Biden with no choice but to use the authorities he has under current law to establish a more orderly process at our southern border,” he said.
“We have seen over the past decade that new border enforcement cannot be effective unless migrants are also given meaningful legal pathways to come to the United States.”
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