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Biden Unveils Executive Order That Would Severely Limit Asylum at U.S.-Mexico Border

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Updated: | Originally published:

President Joe Biden unveiled an executive order Tuesday that would allow his Administration to halt asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border once apprehensions at the border reach 2,500 per day.

Because the current daily number of people encountered by the Border Patrol between ports of entry is well over 2,500, this order would effectively shut down most asylum applications at the border when it takes effect. In May, about 3,800 people were encountered per day, according to data obtained by CBS News. The asylum claim process would only be allowed to resume if the number of daily encounters drops below 1,500.

“I believe that immigration has always been a lifeblood of America,” Biden said during a press conference announcing the order. “We’re constantly renewed by an infusion of people and new talent. The Statue of Liberty is not some relic of American history; it stands for who we are as the United States.”

“The simple truth is there is a worldwide migrant crisis,” the President continued. “And if the United States doesn't secure our border, there’s no limit to the number of people who may try to come here because there’s no better place [on] the planet than the United States of America.”

The U.S. asylum system is heavily backlogged, with over 1.1 million asylum cases currently pending approval in immigration courts. The average asylum seeker waits around four years before receiving a hearing in immigration court, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a nonprofit research group at Syracuse University. While cases are pending, asylum seekers live in limbo, with limited rights to employment and public benefits. The number of asylum cases pending has grown seven-fold since 2012, according to TRAC.

Read More: ‘We Are the World Power.’ How Joe Biden Leads

The Biden Administration says that the executive order will help reduce the backlog and make the system more efficient. "President Biden believes we must secure our border. That is why today, he announced executive actions to bar migrants who cross our Southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum. These actions will be in effect when high levels of encounters at the Southern Border exceed our ability to deliver timely consequences, as is the case today," a senior Administration official said in a statement. The order contains humanitarian exceptions for unaccompanied children and victims of trafficking.

The announcement prompted blowback from progressive politicians and advocacy groups.

Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat, said in a press release that the U.S. needs “smart and strategic investments to reduce backlogs and wait times, address the root causes of migration, and open lawful pathways to migration,” instead of an effective ban on most asylum requests at the border.

“By reviving Trump’s asylum ban, President Biden has undermined American values and abandoned our nation’s obligations to provide people fleeing persecution, violence, and authoritarianism with an opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S.,” Padilla said. “This asylum ban will fail to address the challenges at our border, just as it did under the Trump Administration. It will lead to people with legitimate asylum claims being prevented from seeking safety and returned to harm.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it intends to sue the Biden Administration over the executive order. “It was illegal when Trump did it, and it is no less illegal now,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a press release.

Biden briefly acknowledged the criticism during his remarks Tuesday afternoon.

“For those who say the steps I’ve taken are too strict, I say to you, be patient. [The] and goodwill [of the] American people are wearing thin right now,” the President said. “Doing nothing is not an option. We have to act. We must act consistent with both our law and our values, our values as Americans. We take these steps today not to walk away from who we are as Americans—to make sure we preserve who we are for future generations to come.”

Meanwhile, Republicans criticized Biden for what they saw as a political ploy to gain votes ahead of the November election. U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on X that the order was “too little, too late.”

“President Biden’s Executive Order is nothing more than a desperate political stunt to try and stabilize his plummeting poll numbers,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik said in a joint statement posted on X. “It does nothing to deport the millions who have poured over our open border every year since Biden took office. And it will still allow scores of additional illegal immigrants to flood into our country before any so-called shutdown authority kicks in,” they continued.

Immigration is a top priority for voters, according to a recent poll by Pew Research Center. The executive order comes as Biden struggles in the polls against Donald Trump, whose hardline views on immigration can resonate with the American public. A poll conducted in January 2024 by CNN showed that nearly half of Americans would support the detainment and deportation of millions of immigrants.

The Biden Administration also blamed Republicans for blocking a congressional border control bill— which also included funding for Israel and Ukraine—that would have provided funding for an additional 1,500 new Customs and Border Protection personnel, 1,200 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, fentanyl detection machines to be used at the border, and made it easier to remove migrants believed to pose a threat to public safety.

Former President Donald Trump called the bill a "gift to the radical left Democrats," and the bill failed to pass the Senate."Legislation is still the only way to permanently address border security and immigration reform," White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a memo addressing Tuesday's executive order. "Today we are again calling on congressional Republicans to stop choosing Donald Trump and fentanyl traffickers over the Border Patrol Union and the safety of their constituents."

The number of crossings at the U.S. southern border has decreased since December as Mexican authorities have increased their enforcement efforts. On Sunday, Mexico elected a new President, Claudia Sheinbaum. She comes from the same political party as Mexico’s current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was cooperative with the U.S. on border policy.

-With additional reporting by Brian Bennett/Washington

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