The Biden White House is reprising elements of former president Donald Trump’s hard-nosed migration policy with a new rule that gives it broad powers to expel large numbers of the asylum-seekers attempting to cross its southern border.
A surge of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. from Mexico has coincided with the scheduled expiry of Title 42, a pandemic-era rule first instituted under Mr. Trump used for millions of summary expulsions without asylum claims. U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended more than 10,000 people a day this week, the highest ever recorded, local media reported, as the federal and state response brings an increased military presence to the border.
After the White House dispatched 1,500 troops, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered hundreds of Texas National Guard soldiers to respond. Social-media images on Wednesday showed men in uniform standing on Texas soil behind spirals of concertina wire as a row of migrants, including children, struggled up a steep river bank.
The Joe Biden administration also unveiled new legal measures, saying it will immediately replace Title 42, which expires Thursday, with a rule that would also allow for the rapid removal of large numbers of people not entering the U.S. at formal ports of entry.
Mr. Biden entered office pledging to reverse immigration policies from Mr. Trump that he called “a stain on our national conscience.” He has ended some practices, such as the separation of migrant children from parents.
But in many other ways, Mr. Biden has hewed closely to his predecessor’s policies, a reflection of the charged political atmosphere around migration and the country’s struggles to adjust to a decade of dramatic change in the types of people seeking refuge in the U.S., many now fleeing dangers at home rather than simply pursuing economic advantage.
The new rule provides several exemptions, including for unaccompanied children and those denied asylum claims elsewhere. But is otherwise designed to quickly expel most people not arriving through formal channels. Immigration advocates termed it a Trump-style asylum ban “2.0.″
It offers “very limited access to attorneys, very fast turnaround times,” said Karla Marisol Vargas, senior attorney with the Beyond Borders Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. She recalled being at the border several years ago, when Mr. Trump’s policies came into place.
The new rule “is very much hearkening to those times, of what that process looked like.”
The Biden White House has also sought to widen legal avenues into the U.S., promising migrant processing centres in Colombia and Guatemala, promoting a cellphone app to allow people to digitally apply for asylum screening and, this week, dispatching an extra 1,000 asylum officers to the southern border.
“Our president has led the expansion of lawful pathways more than any one else in our history,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday.
But critics say the Biden administration has kept in place many elements of the approach Mr. Trump used.
“The truth of the matter is, the general thrust of U.S. politics right now is to keep as many non-white people out as possible,” said Josiah Heyman, director of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Center for Inter-American and Border Studies.
Migration has changed considerably in the past decade, with Prof. Heyman pointing to 2014 as the year that asylum-seekers began to make up the majority of southern border arrivals. The Department of Homeland Security now counts roughly 20 million displaced people in the hemisphere.
But successive White Houses have directed greater resources toward enforcement than the expansion of an under-resourced asylum system, Prof. Heyman said.
Migrants rushed across Mexico's border hours before pandemic-related asylum restrictions were to expire on May 11, fearing that new policies would make it far more difficult to gain entry into the United States.
The Associated Press
The Biden administration, too, has made a “very cynical political calculation that they need to pander to the border freakout crowd and stay protected politically,” he said.
The American political right has been vociferous in calling for a harder response. Earlier this week, Mr. Abbott accused the president of colluding with cartels to maintain a porous border, saying: “We are being overrun by our own federal government.”
But Texas troops don’t have legal authority to apprehend migrants, and the White House is “trying to seek order,” said Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, an analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute. The patterns of migration haven’t changed since Mr. Biden took office, he said – and neither have the tools at the White House’s disposal.
One of the difficulties for U.S. leadership is to prevail in what Michael Chertoff, who was secretary of Homeland Security under George W. Bush, called a “war of messaging” against traffickers and other migrants, who have recounted on social-media app TikTok the ease of getting into the U.S.
The White House also needs Congress to allocate more money. The Department of Homeland Security received only half of roughly US$4-billion it requested last year.
But Mr. Chertoff expressed support for the new White House rule, likening it to opening a door while pledging to send back those who climb in through the window.
“What you want to do is be smart on migration, not tough,” he said, adding: “We’ll see whether this at least quiets some of the chorus.”
There is reason for doubt. The American Civil Liberties Union is already preparing to file suit against the new rule.
“We’re going to challenge it promptly,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who was lead counsel in a series of cases against Trump-era policies.
He called the new Biden administration rule “flatly inconsistent with U.S. and international asylum law,” pointing to a requirement that people first seek asylum in third countries, such as Mexico and Guatemala, whose systems do not have the capacity to handle large numbers of applicants.
That “will mean that asylum-seekers will be forced to remain in horrific conditions and danger for years,” he said.
“We don’t see any legal daylight between this rule and the asylum bans that the Trump administration enacted, both of which were enjoined by U.S. courts.”