Biden imposes stricter asylum measures to send political message against irregular immigration

Under the executive order signed by the president, the border with Mexico can be shut down if crossings of people without papers exceed 2,500 daily for a week

Migrantes procedentes de Ecuador
Migrants from Ecuador wait to be transported by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing at Jacumba Spots, California, on June 4.Go Nakamura (REUTERS)

As of Tuesday, the United States is imposing new, much stricter measures to limit asylum and close the southern border to irregular migrant entries. In a measure aimed at addressing one of the major concerns of voters, just five months before the November election, President Joe Biden has signed an executive order allowing the closure of the border with Mexico if there are more than 2,500 irregular crossings per day for a period of a week. The order also limits the possibility of asylum for those who enter irregularly and allows for the rapid expulsion of those who are denied such protection.

In practice, the order allows for the closure of a large part of the border from midnight Tuesday, since over the previous seven days the cited level of irregular entries has already been exceeded: in May, daily entries reached an average of 3,800 and there were 118,000 detentions across the whole month. It is a far cry from the record numbers registered last December, when there were more than 250,000 detentions. But it is a number that continues to whip up criticism against the Democratic president’s immigration policy and represents one of his great weaknesses against his Republican rival, Donald Trump, who has promised a heavy-handed approach to border security if he returns to the White House next January. The former president, who has described immigrants as “poisoning the blood of our country,” has threatened to carry out mass deportations, among other measures.

With this executive order, which has been in the pipeline for months, Biden hopes to take the initiative and present the Democrats as a party that is prepared to take measures to control the border, in the face of Republicans who have since January twice blocked a bipartisan immigration reform bill.

Biden’s gamble is not without risk, however: even before the new executive order was made public, human and migrant rights groups, as well as legislators from the progressive Democratic wing — which is also increasingly vocal about its discontent over the White House’s support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza — criticized the measure.

The executive order, as explained in a fact sheet issued by the White House, foresees the following: “President Biden believes we must secure our border. That is why today, he announced executive actions to bar migrants who cross our Southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum. These actions will be in effect when high levels of encounters at the Southern Border exceed our ability to deliver timely consequences, as is the case today. They will make it easier for immigration officers to remove those without a lawful basis to remain and reduce the burden on our Border Patrol agents.”

The measure invokes executive powers laid out in section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a remedy used by Trump during his presidency to impose a draconian immigration policy and prevent entries into the United States. But unlike during Trump’s term, unaccompanied minors will not be affected, senior White House officials who spoke to the press on condition of anonymity have emphasized. “We will not separate families,” they stated. “It is not only an inhumane measure, it is ineffective. It did not stop the flow of irregular migration at all” during Trump’s tenure.

The measure also contemplates exceptions, the senior officials have pointed out, for those cases in which the affected person claims, and can demonstrate, a clear risk of torture or other mistreatment if he or she is deported. Those who are found not to be at risk will be deported “as quickly as possible.” They will also be barred from entering the U.S. for at least five years and could face criminal charges.

The U.S. government currently processes around 1,450 applications per day at southern border entry points. The immigration authorities have been asking for months that these processes be initiated on a mobile application and from the country of origin of those who wish to seek asylum. The Department of Homeland Security, on which the Border Patrol depends, wants agents who conduct initial asylum interviews to have greater freedom to quickly reject those who do not meet the conditions. It is estimated that there are some two million requests for asylum in the U.S. awaiting a decision by immigration courts. The vast majority of those awaiting the resolution of their cases do so on U.S. soil and live normal lives.

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