WASHINGTON (HPD) — Two years ago, candidate Joe Biden strongly denounced President Donald Trump for immigration policies that inflicted “cruelty and exclusion at all times,” including on those fleeing the “brutal” rule of socialist Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. .
Now, with more and more Venezuelans arriving at the US-Mexico border as the Nov. 8 election approaches, Biden has turned to an unlikely source for a solution: his predecessor’s playbook.
The president last week invoked a Trump-era guideline known as Title 42, which Biden’s own Justice Department is fighting in court, to deny Venezuelans fleeing their country the chance to apply for asylum at the border.
The rule, first invoked by Trump in 2020, uses a public health emergency to block migrants from seeking asylum at the border, based on the need to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Under the new policy of the Biden administration, Venezuelans who walk or swim across the southern border of the United States will be expelled and any Venezuelan who enters Mexico or Panama illegally will not be eligible to come to the United States. But up to 24,000 Venezuelans will be accepted at US airports, similar to how Ukrainians have been admitted since Russia’s invasion in February.
Mexico has insisted that the United States admit one Venezuelan on humanitarian grounds for every Venezuelan it expels to Mexico, according to a Mexican official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. So if the Biden administration receives 24,000 Venezuelans, Mexico would not accept more than 24,000 Venezuelans expelled from the United States.
Biden’s new policy has drawn swift criticism from immigrant advocates, many of whom were quick to point out the Trump parallels.
“Instead of restoring the right to asylum decimated by the Trump administration … the Biden administration has dangerously embraced past failures and amplified them by explicitly allowing deportations of Venezuelan migrants,” said Jennifer Nagda, policy director at the Center Youth for the Rights of Immigrant Children.
The administration says the policy is aimed at ensuring a “legal and orderly” way for Venezuelans to enter the United States.
Why the twist?
For more than a year after taking office in January 2021, Biden deferred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which used its authority to uphold the Trump-era statement that the risk to public health justified the expedited removal of asylum seekers.
Members of Biden’s own party and activist groups expressed skepticism about the public health rationale for allowing Title 42 to remain in effect, especially when COVID-19 was spreading more within the United States than elsewhere.
After months of internal deliberations and preparations, on April 1 the CDC said it would end the public health order and return to normal border processing of migrants, giving them a chance to apply for asylum.
Homeland Security authorities braced for a resulting increase in border crossings.
But officials inside and outside the White House were conflicted about ending the measure, believing it did keep the number of people crossing the border illegally down, according to senior administration officials.
A court order in May that kept Title 42 in place due to an appeal by Republican state officials was met with quiet relief by some in the administration, according to officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The recent surge in migration from Venezuela, sparked by political, social and economic instability in the country, dashed officials’ hopes that they were finally seeing a pause in the chaos that had defined the border region for the past year.
By August, Venezuelans were the second largest nationality arriving at the US border after Mexicans. As US tensions with Venezuela meant that migrants from the country could not be easily sent back, the situation became increasingly unwieldy.
So an administration that had rejected many Trump-era policies aimed at keeping immigrants out, which had worked to ease the asylum process and increase the number of refugees allowed into the United States, was now turning to Title 42.
The government brokered a deal to send the Venezuelans to Mexico, which had already agreed to accept migrants expelled under Title 42 if they were from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.
Meanwhile, Justice Department lawyers continue to appeal a court decision that has kept Title 42 in place. They oppose Republican attorneys general from more than 20 states who have argued that Title 42 is “the only safety valve that prevents that the already disastrous border control policies of this administration become an absolute catastrophe.”
Under Title 42, immigrants have been removed more than 2.3 million times from the United States after illegally crossing the country’s land borders from Canada or Mexico, although most attempt to pass through Mexico.
The administration had announced that it would stop removing immigrants under Title 42 beginning May 23 and return to detaining and deporting those who did not qualify to enter and remain in the United States, a longer process that allows immigrants to apply asylum in the country.
“We are extremely concerned about the apparent acceptance, codification and expansion of the use of Title 42, an irrelevant health order, as a cornerstone of border policy,” said Thomas Cartwright of Witness at the Border. “One that removes the legal right to asylum.”
A separate lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is also seeking to end Title 42, an effort that could render the administration’s proposal useless.
“People have the right to apply for asylum, no matter where they come from, how they get to the United States, and whether or not they have family here,” said ACLU staff attorney Lee Gelernt.
Long reported from Los Angeles and Spagat from San Diego.