Biden announces border visit, new measures as pressure grows over overwhelming migrant surge

President Biden on Thursday used a major White House speech to announce expanded border measures, ahead of his first ever visit to the besieged southern border next week — as his administration struggles to deal with a historic surge in migrants.

‘These actions alone that I’m going to announce today aren’t going to fix our entire immigration system but they can help us a good deal in managing what is a difficult challenge,’ he said.

Biden announced an expansion of a humanitarian parole program for Venezuelan nationals to include Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans. That program will allow 30,000 individuals a month from all four counties to be paroled into the U.S. for a two-year period as long as they have a financial sponsor and pass other conditions. Those who attempt to enter illegally are made ineligible for the program.

‘We anticipate this action is going to substantially reduce the number of people attempting to cross our southwest border without going through a legal process,’ he said.

That expanded program will be combined with an expansion of Title 42 expulsions to include those nationalities, allowing up to 30,000 of those who enter the U.S. illegally each month to be quickly returned to Mexico. Additionally, Biden is expected announce an increased use of an alternative removal authority – expedited removal – to remove those who do not claim asylum and who cannot be expelled under Title 42.  

The administration will also triple refugee resettlement from Latin American and Caribbean countries, setting a goal of up to 20,000 refugees for FY 2023 and FY 2024.

The Biden administration has touted what it says are the successes of the initial Venezuelan parole program, pointing to stats that show it led to fewer encounters of Venezuelan nationals. However, it has sparked criticism from Republicans and immigration hawks, who have said that the program marks an abuse of humanitarian parole, which is limited by statute to a ‘case-by-case’ basis  for urgent humanitarian purposes or significant public benefit. But the Biden administration has used the authority broadly, including to allow Afghans and Ukrainians into the U.S.

Biden urged migrants not to make the journey to the land border.

‘Do not just show up at the border, stay where you are and apply legally from there,’ he said, promising that people who do ‘will not be allowed to enter.’

Additionally, in a move that is likely to spark pushback from immigration activists, DHS announced Thursday that it would be introduced a rule that would make illegal immigrants ineligible for asylum if they ‘circumvent available, established pathways to lawful migration’ and do not claim asylum in a country through which they traveled to get to the U.S.

The speech comes as the administration has taken heavy fire over the handling of the crisis and Biden is due to visit El Paso, Texas on Sunday – one of the areas most overwhelmed by the crisis. He is expected to assess border enforcement operations and meet with local officials.

There were more than 2.3 million migrant encounters in FY 2022 alone, topping the then-historic 1.7 million encountered in FY 2021. So far in FY 2023, which began in October, the first two months have outpaced the same period last year — with 233,740 encounters in November, compared to 174,845 in 2021 and 73,994 in 2020.

While the administration has claimed the border is ‘secure,’ it has also acknowledged the challenge that the overwhelming numbers pose to officials and border towns. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in an interview Wednesday that the number of encounters is ‘straining our system.’

Republicans and some border officials have blamed the administration for rolling back Trump-era border security policies and interior enforcement. The Biden administration has blamed the Trump administration’s closing off of legal asylum pathways and also aimed to target ‘root causes’ of the crisis like poverty, violence and corruption in Central America. It has also pointed to efforts it has made to increase resources to the border, anti-smuggling campaigns and greater cooperation with Western Hemisphere countries.

Biden renewed administration calls for a sweeping immigration bill to be passed by Congress, which includes greater legal immigration pathways as well as a fast-track eight-year pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already in the U.S. — but that bill has so far failed due to a lack of Republican support.

‘That work will not be done unless and until Congress enacts and funds a more comprehensive immigration plan that I proposed on day one,’ he said.

The border is facing even more uncertainty at the start of 2023 over the question of the Title 42 public health order — which was implemented in 2020 by the Trump administration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been used to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants at the southern border under both administrations.

A court ordered that Title 42 be ended in December after a federal judge found it unlawful, but that was put on hold by the Supreme Court and oral arguments will begin on that case in the Spring. 

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