Picture by: Illegal immigrants gather outside a migrant shelter in El Paso, Texas, on Jan. 6, 2023. (John Moore/Getty Images)
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Two days after President Joe Biden met with Democratic congressional lawmakers, 77 of those elected officials sent a letter on Jan. 26 urging him to reverse plans to limit asylum access and eligibility on the U.S.–Mexico border.
The letter illustrates the divide among Democrats about how the Biden administration should handle the illegal immigration crisis.
Earlier in January, the Biden administration released a comprehensive plan designed to significantly decrease illegal border crossings, announcing that immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela will be returned to Mexico under Title 42 if they illegally enter the country. The plan also provides legal immigration opportunities for vulnerable asylum seekers and migrants with U.S. sponsors.
As part of the Biden administration’s plan, 30,000 migrants from the four nations can apply for asylum protection from their home countries. Mexico has agreed to accept 30,000 each month.
“We believe that your administration can and must continue to expand legal pathways for migrants and refugees into the United States—without further dismantling the right to seek asylum at our border. This right is a pillar of the post-war international order to which the United States has committed itself,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote.
“Instead of issuing a new asylum transit ban and expanding Title 42, we encourage your administration to stand by your commitment to restore and protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.”
Created as part of the Public Health Service Act under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, Title 42 was designed to prevent the introduction of contagious diseases in the United States.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Trump administration invoked the order to restrict entry into the United States.
In late December 2022, the Supreme Court blocked the termination of Title 42.
In its decision, the court agreed to hear arguments in February about whether a coalition of Republican-led states can challenge a lower court’s ruling that ordered the Biden administration to end Title 42, which remains in place.
The letter’s authors praised the Biden administration’s program that allows American citizens and people with legal status in the United States to sponsor migrants from the four countries. They criticized the strategy because of its reliance on policies implemented by former President Donald Trump.
Migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua weren’t previously included in Title 42, the lawmakers noted. The Biden administration should also decide to not move forward on a proposal that will prevent migrants from asylum if they’re unable to find refuge in third countries before arriving in the United States, which is a measure the Trump administration attempted to enact.
In a press conference on Jan. 26, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), flanked by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), said, “No matter how many Trump policies the Biden administration resurrects, Republicans will continue to obstruct any effort to actually reform our border processing and modernize our immigration system.
“We recognize that the United States is experiencing a difficult migration challenge at the southern border. But as elected officials, we are duty-bound to propose legal solutions, one that protects asylum seekers while also securing the safe removal of migrants who have no legal claim to stay in the United States.”
The letter to Biden wasn’t signed by Democratic leaders in the House or Senate.
“I haven’t seen the letter but we look forward to, as Democrats and as members of Congress, having a healthy discussion about how we deal with the complexity of issues connected to comprehensive immigration reform and making sure we have a safe, secure, and strong border,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said on Jan. 26.
On Jan. 24, citing that the program violates U.S. immigration law, 20 Republican-led states asked a federal judge to end the sponsorship policy for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection stated on Jan. 25 that border officials have seen an average of 115 daily encounters with illegal immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela this month. That’s 97 percent less than in early December 2022 when numbers rose to a record high of 3,367 encounters each day.
“These expanded border enforcement measures are working,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Jan. 25. “It is incomprehensible that some states who stand to benefit from these highly effective enforcement measures are seeking to block them and cause more irregular migration at our southern border.”
During an address at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington on Jan. 20, Biden said Republicans were trying to score “political points” on the border crisis and criticized them for not supporting his immigration policy proposal.
“The first bill I introduced was a comprehensive reform legislation on immigration. But because of some in the Congress, they refused to consider it. They found it a better issue to campaign on than an issue to solve,” Biden said.
“So, we have a choice. They can keep using immigration to try to score political points, or we can help solve the problem. Immigration reform used to be a bipartisan issue. And we can make it that again, in my view.”
While Biden is dealing with pushback from lawmakers in his own party, Republicans continue to fight against his border strategy.
On Jan. 24, 20 Republican-led states filed a lawsuit in a Texas-based federal court challenging the Biden administration’s recently announced program to accept 30,000 illegal immigrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
The lawsuit contends that the program has no legal authority and that states will suffer from the flood of illegal immigration from the four countries.
“The Biden open borders agenda has created a humanitarian crisis that is increasing crime and violence in our streets, overwhelming local communities, and worsening the opioid crisis,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement about the lawsuit. “This unlawful amnesty program, which will invite hundreds of thousands of aliens into the U.S. every year, will only make this immigration crisis drastically worse.”
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