Biden to Crack Down on Migrants by Slashing Asylum Claims

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Tuesday allowing him to halt some asylum claims at the US-Mexico border, seeking to curb migrant crossings and address one of his biggest liabilities in the election campaign against Donald Trump.

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The move would effectively prevent new asylum claims by migrants who walk across the border until levels drop by roughly two-thirds of where they stand today, according to people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to detail the plans before they are publicly announced.

The measure would kick in once levels hit roughly 2,500 crossings per day between ports of entry. US authorities recorded about 4,300 encounters per day in April with undocumented migrants between ports of entry, the most recent data available. That means the administration can move quickly to bar a large swath of asylum claims, though the policy is sure to be challenged in court.

Lawmakers and others have been invited to the White House for an event Tuesday afternoon, the people said. Biden would allow asylum claims to resume only once border encounters fall to about 1,500 a day, the people said. The Associated Press reported earlier on the president’s plans.

The order is Biden’s most aggressive move yet to address the crisis on the US-Mexico border, which has seen record levels of migrants and taxed communities across the country struggling to deal with the influx of new arrivals. A bipartisan Senate plan that would have given Biden similar powers was blocked by Republicans at Trump’s behest earlier this year, denying the president a political win and prompting him to act unilaterally.

Tuesday’s order is politically risky. It will invite criticism from Biden’s left flank, which has blasted moves to ramp up deportations as an inhumane approach to the crisis. That has the potential to stymie his efforts to shore up an electoral coalition already riven by divisions over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war and overarching concerns over his age and fitness to serve a second term.

But the move underscores how the administration has been compelled to act alone to address an issue that has become a centerpiece of the 2024 election. The action could allow Biden to highlight how Republicans killed the bipartisan bill.

Trump has hammered Biden on the border, ramping up attacks on immigrants and spotlighting violent crimes allegedly committed by people who crossed the border. Polls show a close race between Trump and Biden and voters say the border and immigration are critical issues.

Summer Influx

Biden’s timing reflects an effort to deter an increase in crossings that typically happens in summer and early fall right before the election, and comes amid a political transition in Mexico.

Biden has enlisted outgoing Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to help curb crossings. Biden and AMLO, as the Mexican president is known, agreed in April on efforts to reduce the number of people who cross the US-Mexico land border between ports of entry.

AMLO’s successor, Claudia Sheinbaum, who was elected the next leader on Sunday, doesn’t take office until Oct. 1, and it is unclear what actions she will continue to take. The US administration has said it has no reason to expect a change. Biden in a statement Monday congratulated Sheinbaum on her election as the first woman president of Mexico and said he looked forward to working with her.

Border crossings have already fallen from the highs seen in late 2023 and Biden has taken steps in recent weeks to tighten immigration rules and drive those numbers down further. In May, the administration proposed a rule that would allow the US to expedite expulsions of undocumented migrants seeking to claim asylum in certain cases, though the change will only affect a small percentage of those caught on the border.

Biden will look to enact some of the changes under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a disputed authority that will surely invite legal challenges. Trump’s actions on immigration while president, including his controversial travel ban, also invoked those authorities and tested the boundaries of the law. Some of his measures were overturned in court, limiting the options available to Biden.

Top Department of Homeland Security officials have stressed the limits of executive action. More broadly, the White House has argued the main constraint on addressing the situation at the border is a lack of funding and staffing — issues Biden can’t address on his own. The White House has repeatedly said any executive action it takes will not match the power that a bill passed by Congress would have.

Still, Republicans have criticized the expected move. “It’s too little too late,” House Speaker Mike Johnson told Fox News Sunday. “The only reason he’s doing that is because the polls say that it’s the biggest issue in America.”

(Updates with details on cooperation with Mexico in paragraphs 10-11)

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