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Blasting congressional inaction, Biden takes steps to curtail asylum claims at southern border

The president's move drew immediate rebuke from immigrant rights groups that plan to sue.
U.S. immigration
Posted at 8:16 AM, Jun 04, 2024

President Joe Biden announced sweeping new executive actions Tuesday in an attempt to curtail asylum claims at the southern border. They enable an effective "shutdown" of the asylum process at the border if the number of encounters at the border surpasses an average of 2,500 over seven days.

In remarks from the White House, President Biden lambasted congressional Republicans for failing to approve a bipartisan legislative package addressing border security, suggesting their lack of action necessitated his unilateral steps.

“The border is not a political issue to be weaponized,” President Biden said. “Frankly, I would’ve preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation ... but Republicans left me no choice.”

The much-anticipated move comes as immigration advocates tell Scripps News they plan to challenge it in court.

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

Political signs are shown.

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Once in place, the new restrictions cannot be lifted until 14 calendar days after the Homeland Security secretary determines there have been seven consecutive days below 1,500 average encounters. In effect, this means the border will be closed for asylum claims for a minimum of three weeks, officials said.

Not all migrants would be subject to these restrictions. Lawful permanent residents, unaccompanied minors, those with an acute medical emergency or victims of trafficking would all be exempted, according to the officials, as would those who pursue asylum through the existing "safe and orderly process” — the CBP One app that currently allows for about 1,500 asylum appointments per day.

To enact such changes, President Biden issued a presidential proclamation accompanied by an interim final rule from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security that suspends entry for asylum-seekers who cross the southwest land or coastal borders unlawfully, making it easier for immigration officials to conduct deportations and reducing the burden on border patrol agents.

In his White House speech, President Biden was flanked by a group of lawmakers and local officials representing border districts. They spoke about their support for President Biden’s actions and echoed his call for congressional action.

“They failed to act. So you see a president stepping into the void and taking action where he is able to do so to help us move forward on a better path for a more safe, orderly and humane process for migration at the southern border,” Ron Nirenberg, mayor of San Antonio, Texas, told Scripps News.

A Border Patrol agent walks along a border wall separating Tijuana, Mexico, from San Diego.

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On Capitol Hill, President Biden’s announcement received mixed reviews from Democrats and overwhelming criticism from Republicans. Though some lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, praised the move, more progressive members blasted it.

“We should be distinguishing ourselves from Donald Trump on immigration,” Rep. Primila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told the Washington Post, describing the president's actions as “very, very disappointing.”

Republicans, meanwhile, suggested even more stringent measures were needed to secure the border.

“This is too little, too late,” said Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan, during a press conference at the Capitol Tuesday.

“The only policy change that will work is to have mass deportations,” added Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The border has become a key issue in the 2024 election, particularly for Republicans. In a recent Economist/YouGov poll, a majority of respondents considered immigration to be an important issue, while more Republicans than Democrats considered it their most important concern.

Trump has frequently attacked President Biden over border policy, promising mass deportations if he is elected. In an interview with Time, the former president said he’d use local law enforcement and the National Guard. He is expected to visit Arizona for a town hall hosted by Turning Point Action.