- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The White House pleaded with would-be illegal immigrants and legitimate asylum-seekers on Wednesday to stay home, saying the U.S. doesn’t have the capacity to handle them right now.

“Now is not the time to come,” Jen Psaki, President Biden’s spokeswoman, told reporters. “The vast majority of people will be turned away.”

The stark statement comes as Mr. Biden is under increasing pressure from his left flank to dismantle the Trump immigration machinery and make life easier for illegal immigrants, both those already here and migrants looking to come from Latin America.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops added its voice Wednesday, urging the Catholic president’s team to announce a new deportation amnesty for potentially millions of illegal immigrants from Central America, saying conditions in their home countries after last year’s hurricanes are too horrid to return to.

Hispanic Democrats on Capitol Hill also fired off a letter to Homeland Security this week saying they have heard troubling reports that deportations have increased, and have been carried out without chances for extra appeals.

The Democrats said they want newly minted Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to order the department to follow more strictly the new administration’s slimmed-down deportation list, which knocks most illegal immigrants out of serious danger of being removed.

Yet another outfit, the Latin America Working Group, said Mr. Biden’s early calls for task forces to study the Trump policies isn’t good enough.

“We know they’re inhumane and deadly, we’ve seen the impact they have on human lives, they need to be terminated NOW. People’s lives are hanging in the balance waiting in danger on the border and people are still being expelled to Mexico or to their home countries,” the group said.

They launched a drive for signatures on a petition telling Mr. Biden to stop turning people away at the border.

Ms. Psaki, at the White House, suggested that’s the eventual goal, but they’re not ready yet.

“This is obviously an emotional issue for many of us who worked on this in the past, for the president himself,” she said. “But we need time to put in place, and partners, to put in place, a comprehensive process and system that will allow for processing at the border of asylum seekers, but also providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the United States.”

It’s unlikely would-be migrants in Latin America give the Biden team the time they’re asking for.

Mini-caravans have already started showing up at the border in Texas, comprised of both families and children traveling without parents, known in government-speak as Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UAC.

Those are the two toughest categories of migrants, with a web of court rulings and policies that make it much tougher to block or quickly deport them, even if they don’t have a clear case for asylum or other protections.

Mark Morgan, the immediate past commissioner at Customs and Border Protection, said border authorities are encountering 3,500 migrants a day, and 300 of them are UACs. Both are staggering numbers, but the UAC number would put the country on pace for one of the worst periods on record.

Faced with those sorts of headwinds, Mr. Biden has been forced to scale down his election promises, at least when it comes to the border.

In the interior, where some 11 million illegal immigrants already reside, Mr. Biden and his team have ordered a less intensive deportation machinery. One operation to go after illegal immigrant fugitives with sex-crime offenses on their records was canceled, and new rules about who should be deported are winding their way into the agency’s bloodstream.

Even some cosmetic changes have been made, with agents at Homeland Security Investigations ordered not to use the term “alien.”

The biggest change was an attempt to stop almost all deportations for 100 days. A federal judge in Texas put that on hold.

Immigration groups, though, say there’s still plenty of room for the Biden team to hinder removals within the space of the court’s order. They’ve begun to grow louder in their demands that the new president flex his administrative muscle and make changes now.

The call by the Catholic bishops is among the more extravagant.

They said El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua were so devastated by Hurricanes Eta and Iota that it’s not safe for people to be sent back, and the U.S. must give them Temporary Protected Status, granting them a chance to stay and work here while their home nations recover. 

The bishops also mentioned the strains of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and said the U.S. had “a moral responsibility” to step in.

Though they addressed their letter to Homeland Security and the State Department, their words could become an issue for Mr. Biden, a practicing Catholic.

TPS is an 18-month grant of protection from deportation, and also grants work permits and some taxpayer benefits. Once declared, it also has proved difficult to end.

Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador have all been under TPS grants dating back the to start of the century, with several hundred thousand people still here under the temporary protections for two decades.

Declaring a new TPS for Central America could add millions more people — all the illegal immigrants who arrived over the ensuing two decades from those three countries and Guatemala, said Robert Law, director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.

That would include the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant families and children who surged the border during the Obama and Trump years.

Mr. Law, who served as chief of policy at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Trump administration, said delivering on that large a TPS grant would be a gargantuan task for his former agency — and a misguided move.

“There’s no legitimate basis for granting TPS that I’m aware of at this juncture, and doing so would provide basically a permanent amnesty, if you will, for millions of illegal aliens in the country,” he said.

He said if USCIS were told to carry out TPS for so many people, it would sap personnel and attention from other business at the agency as it rushed to administer applications, work permits and fingerprinting for the new surge of people.

The Obama team already saw that happen when it carried out the more limited DACA deportation amnesty, causing delays in some green card spouse petitions.

Mr. Law said adding so many new legal workers to the U.S. economy right now would be painful for American workers who are already struggling in the coronavirus-stricken economy.

“A blanket TPS, that’s an executive amnesty on steroids for millions of illegal aliens, which is going to devastate any economic recovery for Americans,” he said,

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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