The Biden administration unveiled a blanket policy on Thursday to turn away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally — a move that immigrant rights groups condemned as harmful and punitive.
The new policy offers legal entry into the U.S. under humanitarian parole for up to 30,000 migrants and asylum seekers per month from Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela, the four countries driving a sharp increase in unauthorized immigration over the last few months. Applicants, who can apply from their phones, must have a U.S. sponsor and undergo a vetting process.
However, the White House also announced that it would leverage Title 42, which President Donald Trump used to expel migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic, to turn back people from those nations who attempt to cross the border illegally rather than going through the application process. Those who cross illegally into Panama or Mexico will be automatically disqualified from the parole program. Migrants from Venezuela have been rejected under a similar policy since October.
Immigrant rights advocates were horrified by the move, which they said would deny safety to people who desperately need it.
“The Biden administration should be taking steps to restore asylum law at ports of entry, not doubling down on cruel and counterproductive policies from the Trump playbook,” Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, said in a statement.
“Every day that these policies are in place, people seeking refuge will be turned away to suffer horrific abuses,” Acer continued. “This subversion of human rights and refugee law is a stain on the record of President Biden and his administration that will inflict indelible harm on human lives, human rights, and the refugee protection system globally.”
The news of the White House’s new carrot-and-stick approach comes after a steady surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. NBC News reported in December that Customs and Border Protection on average apprehended 7,500 to 8,000 migrants per day.
“Seeking safety is treated as a privilege for a select few, and the Biden administration’s cherry-picking of who can and cannot access protection proves this.”
– Mary Miller Flowers of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
Biden administration officials described the new policy as a way to encourage legal entry into the U.S.
“Individuals without a legal basis to remain in the United States will be subject to prompt expulsion or removal,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “Individuals who are provided a safe, orderly, and lawful path to the United States are less likely to risk their lives traversing thousands of miles in the hands of ruthless smugglers, only to arrive at our southern border and face the legal consequences of unlawful entry.”
Since the start of his presidency, Biden has faced staunch criticism over the border from both Republicans and immigrant advocacy groups. Republicans have long argued that the administration is ineffective on border security, while progressive groups have lambasted the White House for its continued use of Title 42 and the massive delays in overhauling the immigration system.
“President Biden’s announcement today is a far cry from the commitments he made on day one to fight for racial justice, immigrant rights, and family protection,” Mary Miller Flowers, the senior policy analyst at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, said in a statement.
“The right to asylum should not hinge on your manner of flight from danger or your financial means,” Flowers continued. “Yet, for far too long, seeking safety is treated as a privilege for a select few, and the Biden administration’s cherry-picking of who can and cannot access protection proves this.”
Biden will travel to El Paso, Texas, this weekend ― his first trip to the southern border as president ― before going to Mexico City to meet with North American leaders on Monday.
Immigrant rights advocates called on Biden to revoke Title 42 entirely instead of enacting policies to reject people seeking safety.
“Instead of working hand-in-glove with direct service providers at the border, Biden is instead re-packaging failed Trump-era asylum ideas,” Karen Tumlin, founder and director of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization, said in a statement. “This isn’t just disappointing, it is in conflict with what most Americans want for our nation.”