WASHINGTON (AP) – Two years ago, candidate Joe Biden loudly denounced President Donald Trump for immigration policies that inflicted “cruelty and exclusion at every turn,” including those fleeing the “brutal” government of socialist Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
Now, with increasing numbers of Venezuelans arriving at the US-Mexico border as the Nov. 8 election nears, Biden has turned to an unlikely source for a solution: his predecessor’s playbook.
Last week, Biden invoked a Trump-era rule known as Title 42 — which Biden’s own Justice Department is fighting in court — to deny Venezuelans fleeing their crisis-torn country from seeking asylum at the border.
The rule, first invoked by Trump in 2020, uses public health emergency authority to prevent the United States from seeking asylum at the border, based on the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Under the new policy of the Biden administration, Venezuelans who walk or swim across the US southern border will be deported, and any Venezuelans who enter Mexico or Panama illegally will not be allowed to come to the United States. But as many as 24,000 Venezuelans will be accepted at US airports, much like Ukrainians have been accepted since the Russian invasion in February.
Mexico has insisted that the US accept one Venezuelan on humanitarian parole for every Venezuelan it deports 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 lets 24,000 Venezuelans into the US, Mexico would not receive more than the 24,000 Venezuelans expelled from the US
Biden’s policy marks a sharp U-turn for the White House, which just weeks ago condemned Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, for busing and flying Venezuelan migrants “fleeing political persecution” to Democratic strongholds.
“These were children, they were mothers, they were fleeing communism,” White House Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at the time.
Biden’s new policy has drawn swift criticism from immigrant advocates, many of whom are quick to point to Trump’s parallels.
“Instead of restoring the right to asylum that was decimated by the Trump administration … the Biden administration dangerously took the failures of the past and expanded on them by explicitly enabling the deportation of Venezuelan migrants,” said Jennifer Nagda, policy director of the Youth Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.
The administration says the policy is aimed at ensuring a “lawful and orderly” way for Venezuelans to enter the US
Why the turnaround?
More than a year after taking office in January 2021, Biden hit back at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has used its authority to uphold a Trump-era declaration that there is a risk to public health that warrants expedited deportation of applicants asylum. .
Members of Biden’s own party and activist groups have expressed skepticism about public health support for allowing Title 42 to remain in place, especially as COVID-19 has spread more widely in the US than elsewhere.
After months of internal deliberation and preparation, the CDC said on April 1 that it would end the public health order and return to normal border processing of migrants, giving them a chance to seek asylum in the US
Homeland security officials braced for the resulting increase in border crossings.
But officials inside and outside the White House have been conflicted about repealing the authority, believing it effectively reduces the number of people crossing the border illegally, according to senior administration officials.
A court order in May that kept Title 42 in place over a challenge from Republican state officials was greeted with quiet relief by some in the administration, according to officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
A recent surge in migration from Venezuela, fueled by the country’s political, social and economic instability, has dashed officials’ hopes of finally seeing a lull in the chaos that has defined the border region for the past year.
By August, Venezuelans were the second largest nationality arriving at the US border after Mexicans. Given that US tensions with Venezuela meant that migrants from that country could not be easily returned, the situation became increasingly difficult to manage.
So the administration, which has rejected many Trump-era policies aimed at detaining migrants, worked to ease the asylum process and increased the number of refugees allowed into the US, has now moved on to Title 42.
He brokered a deal to send Venezuelans to Mexico, which has already agreed to accept migrants deported under Title 42 if they are from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.
All the while, Justice Department lawyers continue to appeal the court’s ruling that upheld Title 42. They are up against Republican attorneys general from more than 20 states who argue that Title 42 is “the only safety valve that prevents this already disastrous border control policy from administration into an unmitigated disaster”.
Under Title 42, migrants have been deported more than 2.3 million times from the U.S. after illegally crossing the country’s land borders from Canada or Mexico, although most try to go through Mexico.
The administration announced it will end deportations of migrants under Title 42 starting May 23 and return to detaining and deporting migrants who have failed to meet the requirements to enter and remain in the U.S. — the longer process that allows migrants to seek asylum in the U.S.
“We are extremely disturbed by the apparent acceptance, codification, and expansion of the use of Title 42, an irrelevant health mandate, as a cornerstone of border policy,” said Thomas Cartwright of Witness at the Border. “One that erases the legal right to asylum.”
A separate lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union is also trying to end Title 42, an effort that could render the administration’s proposal useless.
“People have a right to seek asylum — regardless of where they came from, how they arrived in the United States, and whether or not they have family here,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.
Long reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.
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