By Kevin J. Jones
President Joe Biden will visit the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday, days after his administration announced several changes in immigration policy, including stricter enforcement action against Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans who try to cross the border unlawfully.
“Do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally from there,” the president said in Thursday remarks to reporters. He said the changes “aren’t going to fix our entire immigration system, but they can help us a good deal in better managing what is a difficult challenge.”
The White House said the president will visit El Paso, Texas, on Sunday to “assess border enforcement operations and meet with local elected officials and community leaders who have been important partners in managing the historical number of migrants fleeing political oppression and gang violence in Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Cuba.”
Fernando Ceniceros, communications director for the El Paso Diocese, told CNA Friday that there are currently no plans for El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz to meet with President Biden, though that could change.
“We’re looking forward to discussing these issues about the border should he choose to discuss them with us,” Ceniceros said.
Seitz, who presently chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, had met with Vice President Kamala Harris during her June 2021 visit to the border. CNA contacted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops but did not receive comment by publication.
There were more than 2.38 million migrant stops on the border in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the Associated Press reported. This was the first time the number of stops exceeded 2 million.
Biden said Thursday that the U.S. will now begin to turn away Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians who try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Together with Venezuelans, they are the nationalities that now make up the majority of people who attempt illegal border crossings.
In October the Biden administration implemented a process that led to a dramatic drop in the number of Venezuelans crossing the border. This process will now be expanded to cover migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti, the White House announced. Under this process, up to 30,000 individuals per month from these four countries can come to the U.S. for two years and receive work authorization, provided they have an eligible sponsor and can pass vetting and background checks.
Homeland Security officials will begin denying asylum to those who avoid the legal process and do not first seek asylum in the country they traveled through. Migrants returned to Mexico under the new rules will not be eligible to request asylum in the U.S. for five years, the New York Times reported.
Though the rules could mean 360,000 people can lawfully enter the U.S. in a year, far more have been trying to cross the border. In November alone, nationals from these four countries tried to enter the U.S. 82,286 times, the Associated Press reported.
Mexico has agreed to accept up to 30,000 people a month from these four countries who try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Rejected migrants would normally be returned to their home countries but various factors, including poor relations with these countries’ governments, make this a difficult task.
The new changes affect other countries as well. The Biden administration will allow up to 20,000 refugees from Latin American and Caribbean countries during fiscal years 2023 and 2024. This would more than triple refugee admissions from the Western Hemisphere for this fiscal year alone, a Jan. 5 White House fact sheet said.
The administration plans to create new legal pathways for migrants to other countries, including Canada, Mexico, and Spain. It also aims to increase humanitarian aid to Mexico and Central America.
Immigrant advocates criticized the latest changes, warning that the new process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans is difficult for many migrants to comply with. They emphasized that migrants have a legal right to apply for asylum. For their part, Republican critics contended that Biden is not tough enough on illegal immigration.
The president blamed Republicans in Congress for rejecting comprehensive immigration legislation and for rejecting his request for another $3.5 billion in border security funds to help provide 2,000 new asylum officers and personnel and 100 new immigration judges.
Those claiming asylum, he said, should not have to “wait years to get their claims adjudicated, which they have a right to make a claim legally.”
Only about 30% of asylum applications to the U.S. are granted. There is a backlog of 2 million asylum cases in the immigration courts.
The Biden administration ended the Trump administration’s “Remain-in-Mexico” Policy, which required asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their claims could be heard in U.S. court. Many of these migrants were forced to wait in unsanitary and unsafe camps near the border.
In March 2020 the Trump administration introduced immigration restrictions known as Title 42 as a public health measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Biden administration has sought to lift these restrictions, but Republicans sued to keep them. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of keeping the restrictions.
After Biden’s stop in El Paso, he will travel to Mexico City to meet with Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Immigration will be a leading subject of the meeting.