Joe Biden has announced a new plan to reduce migration from the US border with Mexico, increasing expulsions and expanding a scheme to encourage legal entry by air for citizens of certain countries.
The White House announced the steps ahead of remarks by the US president on Thursday morning about the surge in immigration under his watch, which has been both a humanitarian crisis and a source of relentless attacks from Republican lawmakers.
The new effort to curb illegal immigration across the border with Mexico was coupled with Biden’s plans to make his first visit as president to the region on Sunday, with a stop in El Paso, Texas, to discuss the federal and local response to the crisis. On Monday, Biden will attend a regional summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada in Mexico City.
The White House said that, effective immediately, people who tried to enter the US without permission and did not have “legal basis to remain” would be “increasingly subject to expedited removal to their country of origin and subject to a five-year ban on re-entry”.
But the US also said it would now allow 30,000 people per month to enter America legally for a period of two years if they found an eligible sponsor and passed vetting and background checks. This scheme was launched last year and only applied to immigrants from Venezuela, but has been expanded to include immigrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti. However, the plan will not apply to anyone who is at present en route and crosses into Panama and Mexico starting on Thursday.
Senior Biden administration officials have credited the scheme with reducing the flow of Venezuelan immigrants by land in recent months, and hope it will have the same impact with citizens of the other three countries.
Their plan was crafted as the ability of US customs and law enforcement officials to turn back immigrants at the southern border because of pandemic-related health concerns may soon expire, pending a decision by the US Supreme Court.
US Customs and Border Protection reported 233,740 encounters at the US southwestern border in November, one-third more than the same month in 2021. Migrants detained at the US border had traditionally hailed from Mexico and the northern triangle of Central America — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But migrants from other countries, including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, now outnumber arrivals from those countries, according to an analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights think-tank.
The White House said the administration was “marshalling available authorities and resources from across the federal government to help ensure the border is secure and well managed when the . . . public health order eventually lifts”.
It added that the US was increasing the number of “asylum officers and immigration judges to review asylum cases at the border more quickly — with the aim of reducing initial processing times from months to days”.