Biden orders asylum seekers blocked at border with Mexico

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President Joe Biden speaks with Border Patrol agents as he walks along the border fence during his visit to the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, January 8, 2023. File Photo: Reuters

President Joe Biden will temporarily close the US-Mexico border to asylum seekers as the number of illegal migrants increases, the White House said on Tuesday, in a dramatic effort to neutralize one of his political weaknesses in the re-election fight against Donald Trump.

The 81-year-old Democrat signs a long-awaited executive order that would ban migrants who enter illegally from being granted asylum if the numbers rise above 2,500 per day — and then make it easier to deport them back to Mexico.

“For Joe Biden, the safety of American families must always come first. That’s why today the President is announcing new historic executive actions to prevent migrants who unlawfully cross our southern border from receiving asylum,” said White House spokesman Andrew Bates.

Officials said the strict new measures should take effect immediately because the number of people crossing the border without proper documentation is already above the threshold. Asylum seekers would be allowed back in once the numbers dropped to 1,500 per day.

“We expect the authority to take effect immediately,” a Biden administration official told reporters.

Biden himself was due to speak at the White House at 2pm (6pm GMT).

The move would be one of the toughest ever by a Democratic president and move Biden closer to Republican Trump’s signature border policies, amid polls showing the issue heavily affecting Biden’s re-election chances in November.

Trump’s campaign previously dismissed the expected executive order as “for amnesty, not for border security.”

The statement reiterated Trump’s frequent claims that illegal immigrants are responsible for the increase in violent crime — a claim not supported by major police or academic data.

Migrants entering the United States are normally allowed to seek asylum if they face harm or persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or membership in a particular social group.

But many wait years for their claims to be processed, with critics saying many people cross purely for economic reasons and then game the system to stay in the United States.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday that Biden was dealing with an immigration system that had been “broken for decades.”

Jean-Pierre accused Republicans in Congress of “partisan politics” by not working with Biden, and by blocking billions of dollars in funding for the border that the president was trying to push through, along with money for Ukraine and Israel.

Under Biden, border crossings have risen to record levels, peaking at about 300,000 — 10,000 per day — in December.

Most come from Central America and Venezuela, fleeing poverty, violence and disasters exacerbated by climate change, but more and more people are also coming to Latin America from other parts of the world before making the treacherous journey north , to the United States.

The numbers have fallen significantly in recent months, to around 179,000 in April, but polls show this is still one of Biden’s biggest electoral liabilities.

Biden’s executive order is intended to defuse Republican attacks and sway mid-level voters concerned about the state of the border. But his plan will anger left-wing Democrats and will almost certainly be challenged in court by civil rights groups.

The White House has taken steps to defuse criticism that Biden is essentially copying Trump — even using the same laws as his predecessor for his new executive order.

“All of these policies are in stark contrast to the way the previous administration managed immigration,” a second senior administration official told reporters.

“They demonized immigrants, conducted mass raids, separated families at the border and put children in cages. Their policies went against our values ​​as a nation.”

Trump has spent his time in office building a wall on the Mexican border and has dramatically stepped up his anti-immigration rhetoric as he seeks a comeback to the White House.

He has repeatedly spoken of migrants “poisoning the blood” of the United States and says he will carry out the largest deportation of migrants in history once he takes power.