McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Biden administration Thursday announced new rules for asylum-seekers from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti who attempt to cross the Southwest border, but migrant advocates fear the new turnback restrictions are too tough and reminiscent of the Trump administration.
The new enforcement rules came as President Joe Biden said he will visit the border on Sunday in El Paso. This will be Biden’s first visit to the Southwest border and comes after repeated calls from border leaders and politicians on both sides of the aisle who say the situation is out of control.
Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security will establish new pathways for citizens from those three countries to apply to enter the United States. This includes filling out online applications through a new app at CBPOne to get an in-person appointment for migrants to present themselves at ports of entry.
Asylum-seekers must go through a stringent vetting process; prove they have financial and other support in the United States; and complete all required vaccinations and health requirements.
It is similar to a program that began in October for Venezuelans, which Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday resulted in “a dramatic drop — a 90% drop — in the number of Venezuelans encountered at our Southwest border.”
In a news conference held in Washington, D.C., just minutes after Biden’s border news conference, Mayorkas touted the new plan saying “individuals who are provided a safe, orderly and lawful path to the United Stats are less likely to risk their lives traversing thousands of miles in the hands of ruthless smugglers.”
But those who fail to legally go this route face expulsion to Mexico.
Up to 30,000 migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela who do not qualify for U.S. asylum will be turned back and accepted by Mexico per month, under the new DHS plans announced Thursday.
Mayorkas said up to 30,000 who do qualify will be legally admitted and allowed to reside in the United States for up to two years with work permits granted.
Migrant advocates say that number is too low and vulnerable asylum-seekers face an uncertain future under the new policy.
“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,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First. “Imposing asylum bans, expulsions, or other punitive policies on people seeking asylum at the U.S. border is both a violation of U.S. refugee law and the Refugee Convention. Far from being a model, the Venezuelan asylum ban is a humanitarian disgrace. Every day that these policies are in place, people seeking refuge will be turned away to suffer horrific abuses.”
“Limited access to humanitarian parole cannot be a replacement for asylum protections guaranteed in U.S. and international law. It will provide only temporary protection to a small subset of the millions of people forced to flee their homes,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
Sunil Varghese, policy director at the said International Refugee Assistance Program said Biden and his administration are attempting to score political points at the border by “actively pursuing discredited Trump policies like Title 42 and an asylum ban.”
“Opening up new limited pathways for a small percentage of people does not obscure the fact that the Biden Administration is illegally and immorally gutting access to humanitarian protections for the majority of people who have already fled their country seeking freedom and safety.,” Varghese said in a statement. “The administration must reverse course immediately.”
“Seeking safety is a right for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, country, or language. The right to asylum should not hinge on your manner of flight from danger or your financial means,” said Mary Miller Flowers, senior policy analyst for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.
Mayorkas defended the plan saying Biden will build upon it when he travels to Mexico City next week for the North American Leaders’ Summit to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Hemispheric challenges require hemispheric solutions and we are working with governments throughout the region,” said Mayorkas, who announced he would travel with Biden to El Paso on Sunday.
Many migrant groups on Thursday called the new policy a mere expansion of Title 42 to citizens from these additional countries, many of who, are fleeing violence and poverty and corrupt governments in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
“We are greatly disappointed by the announcement that the administration is moving forward with a ‘transit ban’ that would dramatically limit the legal rights of asylum seekers to seek protection at the southern border. Similarly, we are opposed to any expansion of the use of Title 42, a public health authority that has been misused for border enforcement from its inception,” said Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Hub.
El Paso has been the epicenter for migrant activity for several weeks, with thousands of asylum seekers crossing the Rio Grande from Juarez, Mexico, into the West Texas city before a surge of Texas National Guard and Border Patrol troops and razor wire were put up at the border there.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from McAllen who represents South Texas, said he is “appreciative of the new measures that were just announced.”
Gonzalez and Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez both invited Biden to also visit the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.
“I strongly urge the president to also visit the Rio Grande Valley and speak with local leaders as no two communities are the same and require different approaches and resources. We cannot continue to rely on antiquated systems from 10 or 20 years ago to solve the ever-evolving issues of today. We must continue to address the problems not just at our southern border, but with our immigration system as a whole,” Gonzalez said.
Cortez says he hopes the El Paso visit “highlights the challenges border communities are facing and the need for comprehensive immigration reform as well as underscoring the need for Congress to act.”
Gonzalez has proposed the Safe Zones Act that would allow migrants to apply for U.S. asylum in their own countries and also set up an application zone on the Guatemala/Mexico border.