Biden Adopts Trump’s Immigration Policy
He's using a tool he denounced as cruel to deal with a humanitarian crisis.
AP (“Biden turning to Trump-era rule to expel Venezuelan migrants“):
Two years ago, candidate Joe Biden loudly denounced President Donald Trump for immigration policies that inflicted “cruelty and exclusion at every turn,” including toward those fleeing the “brutal” government of socialist Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
Now, with increasing numbers of Venezuelans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border as the Nov. 8 election nears, Biden has turned to an unlikely source for a solution: his predecessor’s playbook.
Biden last week invoked a Trump-era rule known as Title 42 — which Biden’s own Justice Department is fighting in court — to deny Venezuelans fleeing their crisis-torn country the chance to request asylum at the border.
The rule, first invoked by Trump in 2020, uses emergency public health authority to allow the United States to keep migrants from seeking asylum at the border, based on the need to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Under the new Biden administration policy, Venezuelans who walk or swim across America’s southern border will be expelled and any Venezuelan who illegally enters Mexico or Panama will be ineligible to come to the United States. But as many as 24,000 Venezuelans will be accepted at U.S. airports, similar to how Ukrainians have been admitted since Russia’s invasion in February.
Mexico has insisted that the U.S. admit one Venezuelan on humanitarian parole for each Venezuelan it expels to Mexico, according to a Mexican official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke condition of anonymity. So if the Biden administration paroles 24,000 Venezuelans to the U.S., Mexico would take no more than 24,000 Venezuelans expelled from the U.S.
The Biden policy marks an abrupt turn for the White House, which just weeks ago was lambasting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, for putting Venezuelan migrants “fleeing political persecution” on buses and planes to Democratic strongholds.
“These were children, they were moms, they were fleeing communism,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at the time.
Biden’s new policy has drawn swift criticism from immigrant advocates, many of them quick to point out the Trump parallels.
The policy seems especially hypocritical in that Trump at least had the excuse that the COVID pandemic was in full swing. Vaccines hadn’t yet been introduced. And, of course, Biden famously declared the pandemic “over,” urging Americans to get on with their lives.
Still, he’s been dealt a massive problem. We simply don’t have the infrastructure to process asylum requests at anything like this pace. And, like it or not, approximately zero of these Venezuelan migrants qualify for asylum under US law, which requires them to “meet the definition of a refugee” under section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act which requires a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” These are economic migrants, not refugees.
But, again, this was all apparent when Biden castigated Trump’s policy and Biden doesn’t have the excuse that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and others have had in similar cases* of simply being a neophyte.
Regardless, while Biden is obviously more welcoming to immigrants than his white nationalist predecessor, the practicalities are what they are.
For more than a year after taking office in January 2021, Biden deferred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which used its authority to keep in place the Trump-era declaration that a public health risk existed that warranted expedited expulsion of asylum-seekers.
Members of Biden’s own party and activist groups had expressed skepticism about the public health underpinnings for allowing Title 42 to remain in effect, especially when COVID-19 was spreading more widely within the U.S. than elsewhere.
After months of internal deliberations and preparations, the CDC on April 1 said it would end the public health order and return to normal border processing of migrants, giving them a chance to request asylum in the U.S.
Homeland Security officials braced for a resulting increase in border crossings.
But officials inside and outside the White House were conflicted over ending the authority, believing it effectively kept down the number of people crossing the border illegally, according to senior administration officials.
A court order in May that kept Title 42 in place due to a challenge from Republican state officials was greeted with quiet relief by some in the administration, according to officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
Essentially, he had been able to kick the can down the road because others were making the decision for him. Now, he’s faced with a hard reality:
The recent increase in migration from Venezuela, sparked by political, social and economic instability in the country, dashed officials’ hopes that they were finally seeing a lull in the chaos that had defined the border region for the past year.
By August, Venezuelans were the second-largest nationality arriving at the U.S. border after Mexicans. Given that U.S. tensions with Venezuela meant migrants from the country could not be sent back easily, the situation became increasingly difficult to manage.
We’re simply not going to devote the resources necessary to staff and house a presumably temporary problem of this magnitude. (We typically get a couple of hundred Venezuelan migrants a year; we’re looking at 150,000 this year.) I suppose we could just declare that anyone who arrives at the borders should simply be allowed to stay but there’s very little political support for that.
So an administration that had rejected many Trump-era policies aimed at keeping out migrants, that had worked to make the asylum process easier and that had increased the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. now turned to Title 42.
It brokered a deal to send the Venezuelans to Mexico, which already had agreed to accept migrants expelled under Title 42 if they are from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.
All the while, Justice Department lawyers continue to appeal a court decision that has kept Title 42 in place. They are opposing Republican attorneys general from more than 20 states who have argued that Title 42 is “the only safety valve preventing this Administration’s already disastrous border control policies from descending into an unmitigated catastrophe.”
Under Title 42, migrants have been expelled more than 2.3 million times from the U.S. after crossing the country’s land borders illegally from Canada or Mexico, though most try to come through Mexico.
The administration had announced it would stop expelling migrants under Title 42 starting May 23 and go back to detaining and deporting migrants who did not qualify to enter and remain in the U.S. — a longer process that allows migrants to request asylum in the U.S.
We have a major crisis on our hands and the President is using every tool at his disposal—including one he’s previously denounced as cruel and barbaric—to address it. I get it. But it’s not a good look.
“We are extremely disturbed by the apparent acceptance, codification, and expansion of the use of Title 42, an irrelevant health order, as a cornerstone of border policy,” said Thomas Cartwright of Witness at the Border. “One that expunges the legal right to asylum.”
A separate lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union also is trying to end Title 42, an effort that could render the administration’s proposal useless. “People have a right to seek asylum – regardless of where they came from, how they arrive in the United States, and whether or not they have family here,” said ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt.
Again, there’s no right to asylum for economic migrants or those simply fleeing a war zone. And there’s certainly no right to travel thousands of miles through a dozen poor countries to seek asylum in a rich country.
Still, there are something like 6 million displaced persons from Venezuela alone, a major humanitarian crisis. While the impulse to pawn the problem off on Mexico or somewhere else is perfectly understandable, it’s also cruel. It’s not reasonable for the United States to absorb all or most of them in short order but we almost certainly need to do more.
Alas, we’re dealing with our own economic problems, absorbing Afghan refugees (who are legitimately that, and mostly as a function of our intervention there), and supplying Ukraine. Even our resources aren’t unlimited.
*Challengers often try to make hay by drawing distinctions on foreign policy but the two examples that come most readily to mind are Clinton’s criticism of Bush 41’s policy toward Haitian refugees and Dubya’s criticism of Clinton’s China policy. In both cases, it turned out that the least bad option was the best.