President Biden will announce a new approach to border security on Thursday, creating massive new avenues for some migrants from Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua to enter the U.S., while vowing to use Trump-style expulsions and blockades to stop those who refuse to use the legal pathways.
The carrot-and-stick approach, described by officials ahead of Mr. Biden‘s speech announcing the plan, comes after two years of unprecedented chaos at the southern border.
The new legal pathway would cover up to 30,000 people a month from four key countries, giving them a two-year permit to live and work in the U.S. while trying to find a more permanent status.
At the same time, Mexico has agreed to take back up to 30,000 people a month who try to jump the southern border without going through the new pathway. That return-to-Mexico policy is similar to the one used by the Trump administration to solve the 2019 border surge.
At the White House, Mr. Biden called for both sides to embrace his approach.
“This is a hard one to deal with, but we have to deal with it,” he said, while acknowledging that what he did announce was limited. “The actions we’re announcing today will make things better, will make things better, but will not fix the border problem completely.”
Immigrant-rights groups quickly denounced the president for embracing Trump-style policies, saying they were exactly what Mr. Biden had denounced during the 2020 campaign.
“His commitments to people seeking safety will ring utterly hollow if he moves forward in substituting one illegal anti-asylum Trump policy for another,” said Jonathan Blazer, director of border strategies at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Administration officials called the new legal program “unprecedented.”
“We view this 30,000 a month as really, truly ground-breaking,” one official said.
The announcement finally gives Mr. Biden some answers he can point to as he prepares for a belated first visit to the border next week.
It also marks a stunning flex of executive power and one that could be challenged in the courts by both sides of the immigration debate. Immigrant rights activists say pushing people back to Mexico denies them their legal right to claim asylum, while legal experts on the right question Mr. Biden‘s expansive use of “parole” to admit migrants outside of the system created by Congress.
“This is one of the most egregious, unlawful abuses of humanitarian parole authority in American history,” said R.J. Hauman, head of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “‘Case by case’ has morphed into industrial-scale processing.”
Legal arguments aside, the administration says the plan will work.
They have been doing a trial run with Venezuela after a surge of migrants from that country threatened to overwhelm the border last fall. The administration in October announced its policy of paroling some Venezuelans who applied from abroad, while expelling others back to Mexico.
The effect was to dramatically cut unauthorized crossings, from 33,804 at the southern border in September to 7,931 in November.
That program will now be expanded to include migrants from Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua, which are also contributing to the current border chaos.
The administration says it will parole up to 30,000 people from those four countries every month. Mexico will take back 30,000 more who are expelled.
“My message is this. If you’re trying to leave Cuba, Nicaragua or Haiti, or have agreed to begin a journey to America, do not, do not just show up at the border,” Mr. Biden said. “Stay where you are and apply legally from there. Starting today, if you don’t apply through the legal process, you will not be eligible for this new parole program.”
More than 82,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela were nabbed at the southern border in November, part of a total of 233,740 illegal crossers caught by Customs and Border Protection agents and officers.
By contrast in October 2020, the month before Mr. Biden was elected, CBP nabbed just 71,929 migrants jumping the southern border.
Of those, 90% — 64,894 — were expelled under the Title 42 pandemic emergency policy that allowed the expedited removal of border jumpers to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Experts say the level of mayhem at the border comes down to whether migrants get what they wanted — quick release — or whether they get removed. When more people are caught and released, it entices even more to make the attempt.
The Trump team, using a combination of Title 42, the “Remain in Mexico” policy and new rules restricting people from traveling across other countries to claim asylum in the U.S., effectively ended catch-and-release.
Under Mr. Biden, though, roughly 100,000 migrants a month are caught and released, according to estimates. Some will go on to file asylum claims, though most will fail to win those cases. Yet if past practice holds, most will also remain even after their cases fail, blending into the shadows with 11 million other illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
The newcomers have spread out across the U.S., overwhelming social services in cities like New York and Washington.
Other yardsticks are also off the charts.
The amount of fentanyl coming across the southern border has reached cataclysmic levels. Border Patrol agents have also detected an unprecedented number of people on the terrorism watchlist trying to sneak in.
Migrant deaths have reached all-time highs, while smuggling cartels have made record profits off the surge of people. The Washington Times’ database of smuggling cases shows Mexicans paying up to $12,000 to be smuggled in right now, while those from Central America pay as much as $20,000.
A Times analysis last year pegged the total size of the smuggling economy at more than $20 billion.
Administration officials pointed to the cartels as one reason for adopting the new carrot-and-stick approach.
“What we’re trying to do is take the smugglers out of the equation,” one official told reporters. “We have seen so many tragedies over the last year that are avoidable and we’re hoping to give migrants the opportunity to not have to put their lives in the hands of these callous organizations.”
Mr. Biden devoted a large portion of his remarks on immigration Thursday to bashing Republicans. He said he has proposed a legalization bill that would grant citizenship rights to millions of illegal immigrants, but the GOP has derailed it on Capitol Hill.
He also said he asked for several billion dollars in the just-passed 2023 spending bill to help welcome and better process the new border jumpers, but the GOP blocked those efforts too.
“Republicans haven’t been serious about this at all. Come on,” he said.
Administration officials bristled at the complaint that they were adopting Trump-style policies, pointing to the new pathways for legal entry as a major difference.
To qualify, migrants must go through a records check and get a sponsor in the U.S. That is actually a pretty low bar, officials said, since charity groups are working to round up sponsors. There’s even a smartphone app that can be used to fill out the application.
Immigration activists countered that only well-connected or financially well-off migrants will end up taking advantage of the program.
Mr. Biden acknowledged that problem, but said “there’s also ways to get to ports of entry along the border as well.”
The administration said it will reserve up to 20,00 slots for refugee admissions from the Western Hemisphere in 2023 and 2024, creating another outlet for those looking to reach the U.S.
The new policies come even as Mr. Biden fights over Title 42 in the courts.
The case has reached the Supreme Court, which last week ordered Title 42 to remain in effect until the justices issue an opinion. They have scheduled an oral argument for February.
That move actually gives the Biden administration more time to prepare.
Administration officials said they’re trying to create a more robust system to deal with people once Title 42 does end.
Part of that is making use of what’s known as expedited removal, a speedy deportation.
Under previous administrations that was a powerful tool. Of those put into expedited removal in 2015, under President Obama, nearly 70% were ousted that year.
By contrast, under Mr. Biden in 2022, just 7% of those put into expedited removal were ousted, according to Homeland Security data obtained and revealed by Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican.
Officials told reporters on Thursday that they are trying to add more people to the system to speed up those cases.