The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new policy, to be implemented when Covid measures at the southern border expire, that would place limits on the eligibility of migrants to claim asylum when crossing into the US from Mexico.
The policy has drawn widespread criticism from congressional Democrats and immigrant advocacy organizations who liken it to a “transit ban” proposed by President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration adviser, Stephen Miller. Advocacy organizations have threatened to sue.
Under the new rule, migrants who pass through countries on their way to the US and do not first claim asylum there or use other legal channels will be considered ineligible to claim asylum at the southern border.
Department of Homeland Security officials have widely predicted that the nation’s immigration system will be overwhelmed when the US lifts the Covid restrictions known as Title 42 that have blocked more than 2 million asylum seekers since March 2020. No successful court challenges prevented, Title 42 will expire. in May, and the new policy is intended to last for two years after Title 42 expires, according to a news release from the Homeland Security and Justice departments.
“This is not our first choice or even our second,” an administration official told reporters on a call Tuesday, adding that the Biden administration would prefer Congress to act on immigration reform legislation.
“(Immigrants) will continue to have accessible and convenient ways to apply (for asylum in the US),” the official said.
As announced on January 5, migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela will be able to apply to come to the US if they can show they have a US-based sponsor to support them. Migrants from other countries can schedule appointments with Customs and Border Protection at ports of entry, according to previous policy. But administration officials were unable to tell reporters on the call Tuesday how many migrants may have access to those appointments.
Advocates and lawyers who work with asylum seekers in Central America and those staying in camps in northern Mexico have reported that the app for scheduling appointments often does not work and is not accessible to many migrants.
“CBP continues to enhance the app’s capabilities,” the administration official said.
The Biden administration has repeatedly denied that the new policy is a re-enactment of the Trump-era transit ban.
“As we have seen time and time again, individuals who are provided a safe, orderly and lawful path to the United States are less likely to risk their lives crossing thousands of miles into the hands of ruthless smugglers, without just come to our south. border and address the legal consequences of illegal entry,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Immigrant rights groups were quick to react to the announcement of the new policy.
“President Biden ran for and won the presidency by promising to turn the page on the cruelty and chaos of the Trump era and ‘restore America’s soul,'” said Douglas Rivlin, director of communications for America’s Voice, an advocacy group immigration reform and immigrants. “It is difficult to reconcile those commitments with the details of the proposed asylum ban announced today. It is a policy that is fondly reminiscent of the Trump/Stephen Miller approach and a willful break from some of our proudest traditions as a nation.”