A group of 77 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday criticizing his administration’s policies restricting asylum access for migrants crossing the southern border.
The letter, signed by New Jersey Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and 74 others, said the new policies announced Jan. 5 to open more legal options for migrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba while also eliminating pathways for those nationalities to claim asylum at the border are “disappointing.”
While 30,000 migrants from those four countries will be eligible to apply for humanitarian parole protections from their home countries, Mexico has also agreed to take back 30,000 migrants per month from those same countries as the Biden administration expands the Trump-era Covid protections known as Title 42.
At a press conference Thursday, Menendez said, “We recognize that the United States is experiencing a difficult migration challenge at the southern border. But as elected officials, we are duty-bound to propose legal solutions, one that protects asylum-seekers while also securing the safe removal of migrants who have no legal claim to stay in the United States.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has also said the administration is preparing to propose a new federal rulemaking that would allow his department to deny the right to claim asylum at the southern border for migrants who do not first seek asylum in a country they pass through.
Stephen Miller, the senior adviser behind then-President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, introduced a similar proposal, commonly known as a “transit ban,” that was blocked by courts in 2020.
“Instead of issuing a new asylum transit ban and expanding Title 42,” the Democratic lawmakers said in the letter to Biden, “we encourage your administration to stand by your commitment to restore and protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.” The letter noted that asylum is an international right that should not be restricted.
In response, a White House official said, “Donald Trump tried to categorically bar asylum in the United States for everyone, everywhere. The Biden administration is creating safe and orderly pathways for people who want to seek asylum in the United States. People can make an appointment from their phone to apply for asylum at a port of entry; plus, they can use the expanded parole process, or use the expanded refugee programs. That’s not an asylum ban. It’s a safe, orderly, and humane process for seeking asylum.”
As many as 20 Republican-governed states, with the help of a group led by Miller, are now attempting to block the administration from opening those legal pathways in a new lawsuit recently filed in federal court in Texas.
Biden has faced intense criticism over his border policies from both parties, with Republicans saying they are unwilling to negotiate on immigration legislation or more funding for border initiatives until the administration does more to secure the border. He also faces lawsuits from immigration advocates for cutting off pathways for asylum-seekers.
Customs and Border Protection encountered undocumented migrants more than 250,000 times in December, a record monthly high to end a record high year of border encounters.
Senior Homeland Security officials told reporters on a call Wednesday that since the new policies for Haitians, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Cubans went into effect early this month, the number of people from those countries crossing the border had been drastically cut.
On Jan. 24, the officials said, Customs and Border Protection was encountering 115 migrants from those countries per day as a seven-day average, compared to the average of 3,367 per day Dec. 11, before the policy went into effect.
But the officials would not say how many migrants from those countries had applied or been approved to come to the U.S. legally under the newly established programs.