Biden toughens border, offers legal path for 30,000 a month
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Thursday the United States would immediately begin turning away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross the border from Mexico illegally — his boldest move yet to confront the migrant arrivals that have soared since he took office two years ago.
The new rules expand on an existing effort to stop Venezuelans attempting to enter the U.S., which began in October and led to a dramatic drop in Venezuelans coming to the southern border. Together, they represent a major change to immigration rules that will stand even if the Supreme Court ends a Trump-era public health law that allows U.S. authorities to turn away asylum-seekers.
Homeland Security officials said they would begin denying asylum to those who circumvent legal pathways and do not first ask for asylum in the country they traveled through en route to the U.S.
Instead, the U.S. will accept 30,000 people per month from the four nations for two years and offer the ability to work legally, as long as they come legally, have eligible sponsors and pass vetting and background checks. Border crossings by migrants from those four nations have risen most sharply, with no easy way to quickly return them to their home countries.
“Do not, do not just show up at the border,” Biden said as he announced the changes, even as he acknowledged the hardships that lead many families to make the dangerous journey north. “Stay where you are and apply legally from there,” he advised.
“This new process is orderly,” Biden said. “It’s safe and humane, and it works.”
Separately, Mexican security forces captured Ovidio Guzmán, an alleged drug trafficker wanted by the U.S. and one of the sons of former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in a pre-dawn operation Thursday that set off gunfights and roadblocks across the western state’s capital.
The high-profile capture and Biden’s announcement came just days before López Obrador will host Biden for bilateral talks followed by their North American Leaders’ Summit with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Drug trafficking, along with immigration, is expected to be a top talking point.
Biden plans to visit to El Paso, Texas, on Sunday for his first trip to the southern border as president. From there, he will travel on to Mexico City to meet with the other North American leaders on Monday and Tuesday.
The new rules, while not unexpected, drew swift criticism from asylum and immigration advocates.
“President Biden correctly recognized today that seeking asylum is a legal right and spoke sympathetically about people fleeing persecution,” said Jonathan Blazer, the American Civil Liberties Union’s director of border strategies. “But the plan he announced further ties his administration to the poisonous anti-immigrant policies of the Trump era instead of restoring fair access to asylum protections.”
Even with the health law restrictions in place, the president has seen the numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border rise dramatically during his two years in office; there were more than 2.38 million stops during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the first time the number topped 2 million. The administration struggled to clamp down on crossings, reluctant to take hard-line measures that would resemble those of the Trump administration.
That resulted in relentless criticism from Republicans, who say the Democratic president is ineffective on border security, and the newly minted Republican House majority promised congressional investigations on the matter.
The new policy could result in 360,000 people from these four nations lawfully entering the U.S. in a year, a huge number. But far more people from those countries have been attempting to cross into the U.S. on foot, by boat or swimming; migrants from those four countries were stopped 82,286 times in November alone.
Enyer Valbuena, a Venezuelan who was living in Tijuana, Mexico, after crossing the border illegally, said Thursday’s announcement came as no surprise but a blow nonetheless. “This was coming. It’s getting more difficult all the time,” he said by text message.
Some Venezuelans waiting along Mexico’s border with the U.S. have been talking among themselves about whether Canada is an option, Valbuena said. He had been waiting for the outcome of the pandemic-related asylum ban before trying to enter the U.S. again and is seeking asylum in Mexico, which offers a much better future than Venezuela.
“If it becomes more difficult (to reach the U.S.), the best path is to get papers in Mexico,” said Valbuena, who works at a Tijuana factory.
Mexico agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants each month from the four countries who attempt to walk or swim across the U.S.-Mexico border and are turned back. Normally, these migrants would be returned to their country of origin, but the U.S. cannot easily send back people from those four countries for a variety of reasons that include relations with their governments.
Anyone coming to the U.S. is allowed to claim asylum, regardless of how they crossed the border, but the requirements for granting asylum are narrow and only about 30% of applications are granted. That has created a system in which migrants try to cross between ports of entry and are allowed into the U.S. to wait out their cases. But there is a 2-million-case backlog, so cases often are not heard for years.