Biden announces plan to limit border crossings

Biden gave his speech on immigration a couple of hours ago and as expected he’s introducing some new plans designed to limit border crossings. There are a number of changes here, enough that it’s actually hard to tell what might happen next. My first impression, which could be wrong, is that the buses full of migrants actually worked. After months of southern governors shifting the burden to sanctuary cities like New York and Chicago, there have been so many complaints from blue cities that Biden seems to have actually done something that might help.

The first part of the new plan announced today is an expansion of what the Bide administration has been doing with Venezuelan migrants since October. That program was in turn modeled after a program designed for migrants from Ukraine. The gist of the policy is that a certain number of migrants were allowed to enter under a humanitarian parole program (24,000 per year) which requires a US sponsor while those who crossed the border illegally would be sent back to Mexico. Biden has now expanded that concept to three more countries who currently make up a large portion of the migrant surge.

“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.

There will now be a monthly cap on the number of migrants who can apply for asylum from those four countries. Only those who use the legal application system have a chance to claim asylum. Those who try to cross without permission get sent back to Mexico.

The measures will expand Biden’s use of “parole” authority to allow 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela to come to the United States each month, as long as a U.S. sponsor applies for them first. But those who attempt to migrate through the region without authorization will risk rapid expulsion to Mexico, as the administration plans to expand its use of the pandemic-era Title 42 public health policy. Mexico has agreed to take back 30,000 border-crossers from those nations each month, U.S. officials told reporters during a briefing Thursday morning.

So on the one hand humanitarian parole is being vastly expanded from 24,000 per year for Venezuelans to 360,000 people per year from four countries including Venezuela. As the AP points out, that’s a “huge number.” On the other hand, there were more than 82,000 border crossers from those four countries in November alone. So if you can reduce that number coming from these four countries by 60% that would be a significant improvement.

If you’re like me, you can’t help but wonder where the catch is. Is this rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic setting us up for another disaster? Is it just a gimmick designed to temporarily change the subject? The best I can offer you at the moment to suggest this could have a genuine impact on border crossings comes in three forms. The program as it was applied to Venezuelans last year seemed to work. 

The week after it was announced, the average daily number of Venezuelan border encounters dropped by 86 percent from the previous week, from 1,131 per day to 154. The number of migrants crossing the Darién Gap also declined by 80 percent, Biden administration officials say. It remains to be seen, however, whether this change will hold.

Democrats and immigration activists are not happy about the expansion of this plan.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who along with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pushed the Biden administration for months to end Title 42, criticized the administration’s plan, saying it goes too far in restricting migrants’ access to the border.

“The Biden Administration’s decision to expand Title 42, a disastrous and inhumane relic of the Trump Administration’s racist immigration agenda, is an affront to restoring rule of law at the border,” Menendez said in a statement. “Ultimately, this use of the parole authority is merely an attempt to replace our asylum laws, and thousands of asylum seekers waiting to present their cases will be hurt as a result.”

The move, while not unexpected, drew swift criticism from asylum and immigration advocates, who have had a rocky relationship with the president.

“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.”

Here’s a statement from the vice president of the National Immigration Law Center who sounds genuinely unhappy:

For nearly three years, presidents of both parties have used the false pretext of public health to essentially cut off access to asylum in the United States under Title 42. While the recent Supreme Court ruling has temporarily forced the continuation of Title 42 expulsions, the Biden administration is choosing to expand Title 42 to Nicaraguans, Cubans, and Haitians, and introduce additional policies that further erode the legal right to seek asylum…

…it is imperative that the Biden administration not embrace right-wing talking points by doubling down on failed deterrence practices.

Finally, Daniel Di Martino from the Manhattan Institute seems to like this plan:

The U.S. asylum process still needs reforms to more quickly admit those who qualify and remove those who do not. However, this is a good step that will drastically reduce illegal immigration from these nations while ensuring that those who are admitted come legally, orderly, are vetted, and are supported by U.S. sponsors.

I’m not prepared to say Biden has accomplished something worthwhile yet. We’ll have to wait a few weeks and see if this actually does make a difference in the numbers. Ultimately that’s what matters at this moment of record border crossings.

But my first impression is that the pressure got to him. The buses worked, at least well enough that Biden feels forced to do something to try to improve the situation at the border a little. It may yet fail and it may have other bad outcomes down the line (what’s to keep him from doubling humanitarian parole next year?). At least he’s not ignoring it at the moment or passing it off to Kamala Harris. For better or worse, he’s going to be on the hook for producing results.

Here’s Biden speech. The part where he talks about Title 42 as something that happened under the previous administration seems a bit tone deaf. What has his administration been doing for the past two years? Also, has he got a cold? He sounds more tired than usual.

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