Biden hardens border, offers legal path for 30,000 a month

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WASHINGTON (TBEN) — President Joe Biden said Thursday the U.S. would immediately turn away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who illegally cross the border into Mexico. .

The new rules expand on an existing effort to prevent Venezuelans from trying to enter the US, which began in October and led to a dramatic drop in the number of Venezuelans coming to the southern border. Together, they represent a major change in immigration rules that will hold up even as the Supreme Court overturns a Trump-era public health law that allowed U.S. authorities to turn down asylum seekers.

“Don’t come, don’t just come to the border,” Biden said when announcing the changes, even as he acknowledged the hardships that drive many families to make the perilous journey north.

“Stay where you are and legally apply from there,” he advised.

Biden made the announcement just days before a scheduled visit to El Paso, Texas, on Sunday for his first trip to the southern border as president. From there, he will travel to Mexico City to meet with North American leaders on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The first night under the new restrictions began eerily quiet in Yuma, Arizona, where hundreds of migrants usually cross between midnight and dawn each day, many of them Cubans. At 02:00 local time on Friday, no one had yet crossed the road at a popular spot where people could turn themselves in to Border Police officers.

A large Border Patrol van with caged windows, the kind typically used to transport prisoners, was idling, engine running, along with several white Border Patrol vans on a dirt road where the border wall ends. There was no one under a large white canopy erected months ago to shield migrants from the sun as they wait to be driven to a border patrol station.

An agent said the low turnout could be a result of the previous day’s announcement, but also noted that the river was high. He suggested waiting until 5am. Migrants usually arrive in groups of between 200 and 300 people, he said.

Homeland Security officials said they would begin denying asylum to those who bypass legal avenues and do not first seek asylum in the country they passed through on their way to the US.

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Instead, for two years, the US will accept 30,000 people a month from the four countries and provide the opportunity to work legally, as long as they are legal, have eligible sponsors, and pass vetting and background checks. Border crossings by migrants from those four countries have risen the most, with no easy way to quickly send them back to their home countries.

“This new process is orderly,” Biden said. “It’s safe and humane, and it works.”

The move, while not unexpected, quickly drew criticism from asylum and immigration lawyers, who have had a difficult relationship with the president.

“President Biden rightly recognized today that seeking asylum is a legal right and spoke sympathetically about people fleeing persecution,” said Jonathan Blazer, director of border strategies for the American Civil Liberties Union. Trump-era immigration policies instead of restoring fair access to asylum protection.”

Even with health laws in place, the president has seen a dramatic rise in the number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border during his two-year term; there were more than 2.38 million stops during the fiscal year ended September 30, the first time the number passed 2 million. The administration has struggled to restrict border crossings, unwilling to take harsh measures similar to those taken by the Trump administration.

That has resulted in relentless criticism from Republicans who say the Democratic president is ineffective on border security, and the newly minted Republican House majority has pledged congressional investigations into the matter.

The new policy could allow 360,000 people from these four countries to legally enter the US within a year, a huge number. But many more people from those countries have tried to enter the US on foot, by boat, or by swimming; migrants from those four countries were stopped 82,286 times in November alone.

Enyer Valbuena, a Venezuelan who lived in Tijuana, Mexico after illegally crossing the border, said Thursday’s announcement was no surprise, but a blow nonetheless.

“This was coming. It’s getting harder and harder,” he said via text message.

Some Venezuelans waiting at the Mexican border with the US have been talking to each other about whether Canada is an option, Valbuena said. He awaited the outcome of the pandemic asylum ban before attempting to re-enter the US and is seeking asylum in Mexico, which offers a much brighter future than Venezuela.

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“When it gets harder (to get to the US), the best way is to get papers in Mexico,” says Valbuena, who currently works at a Tijuana factory.

Mexico has agreed to take in up to 30,000 migrants each month from the four countries who attempt to walk or swim across the US-Mexico border and are turned back. Normally, these migrants would be returned to their countries of origin, but the US cannot easily return people from those four countries for various reasons, including its relations with the governments there.

Anyone coming to the US is allowed to apply for asylum no matter how they crossed the border, and migrants seeking a better life in the US often pay smugglers the equivalent of thousands of dollars to ferry them across the dangerous Darien Gap.

But the requirements for granting asylum are narrow and only about 30% of applications are granted. That has created a system where migrants attempt to cross between ports of entry and are allowed into the US to await their cases. But there is a backlog of 2 million cases in the immigration court, so cases often go unheard for years.

The only lasting way to change the system is through Congress, but a bipartisan effort by Congress to develop new immigration laws failed shortly before Republicans won the majority in the House.

“The actions we are announcing will improve things, but will not completely solve the border problem,” Biden said, pressuring lawmakers to act.

Under then-President Donald Trump, the US required asylum seekers to wait across the border in Mexico. But blockages in the immigration system caused long delays, leading to smelly, dangerous camps across the border where migrants had to wait. That system was ended under Biden, and the migrants returned to Mexico under the new rules will not be eligible for asylum.

Biden will also triple the number of refugees admitted to the US from the Western Hemisphere over the next two years to 20,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean. Refugees and asylum seekers must meet the same criteria to enter the country, but they arrive in different ways.

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Border officials are also creating an online appointment portal to reduce wait times at U.S. ports of entry for those entering legally. It will allow people to make an appointment to come and ask to enter the country.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, migrants have been denied 2.5 million opportunities to seek asylum since March 2020 under Title 42 restrictions, put in place by Trump as an emergency measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But there has always been criticism that the restrictions were used as a pretext by the Republican to close off the border.

Biden made moves to end Title 42 restrictions, and Republicans sued to keep them. The US Supreme Court has provisionally upheld the rules. White House officials say they still believe restrictions should end, but they claim they can continue to deny migrants under immigration law.

The four nationalities Biden addressed on Thursday now make up the majority of those illegally crossing the border. Cubans, leaving the island in their highest numbers in six decades, were stopped 34,675 times at the US border with Mexico in November, a 21% increase from October. Nicaraguans, a key reason why El Paso has become the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, were stopped 34,209 times in November, a 65% increase from October.

But Venezuelans were seen much less at the border after Mexico agreed on Oct. 12 to accept those expelled from the United States. They were stopped 7,931 times, 64% less than in October.

Venezuelans have said the changes have been difficult, especially in finding a sponsor who has the financial resources to demonstrate their ability to support them. And even when they find a sponsor, they sometimes delay their arrival because they don’t have the economic resources to pay for the flight to the US. renewal.

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Spagat reported from Arizona. The Bharat Express News writers Rebecca Santana in Washington and Gisela Salomon in Miami contributed to this report.