Biden’s long-awaited southern border measure draws fire from all sides

Biden’s long-awaited southern border measure draws fire from all sides

President Biden on Tuesday unveiled a long-anticipated measure that will significantly limit the number of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border, an attempt to tackle a complicated election-year issue head on after legislative efforts failed.

“Today I’m moving past Republican obstruction and using executive authorities available to me as president to do what I can on my own to address the border,” Biden said in remarks from the White House. “Frankly, I would’ve preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation, because that’s the only way to get the kind of system we have now that’s broken fixed.”

The action means non-citizens who cross the southern border between ports of entry will be turned away whenever the seven-day average of daily border crossings exceeds 2,500 between ports of entry. Because the seven-day average is already over that threshold, the measure went into effect immediately.

Polling has shown immigration is a top issue for many voters ahead of November’s presidential election, and surveys have consistently showed voters trust former President Trump more than Biden on the issue.

And while Biden and other Democrats argue he had no choice but to act because Republicans blocked bipartisan legislation in the Senate, the policy drew swift criticism from both sides of the aisle, underscoring the fraught nature of trying to address the border.

Republicans dismissed the measure as “window dressing” intended to give the White House a talking point with voters. Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, called the policy “weak” and “pathetic” and suggested it was “all about show, because he knows we have a debate coming up in three weeks.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in a statement that Biden’s decision-making was “based on the proximity of the next election and sinking poll numbers.”

“This executive order is just political cover, and the American people aren’t going to be fooled,” said Cornyn, who is running to replace Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as GOP leader in the Senate.

Progressive Democrats bemoaned that Biden was using tactics similar to the Trump administration that would threaten millions of migrants fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) promptly said it would challenge the order in court.

Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) said Biden’s crackdown would fall flat with the Republicans who have turned the border into a prime political issue.

“This is going to be a political message: ‘Here I am, responding to Republicans.’ But Republicans don’t care what we say and do. They will continue to cause chaos at the border because they have decided that immigrants are the scapegoat that will help them win the White House,” Ramirez told The Hill.

“And we, instead of actually bringing solutions that live out our values, are responding to them, hoping that they’ll agree with us.”

Some centrists, however, cautiously lauded Biden, warning of long-term threats to asylum.

“President Biden has acted in the face of Congressional Republicans cynically deciding to block bipartisan border security legislation,” wrote Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

“That being said, I am concerned about the impact of the Executive Order on vulnerable people coming to the United States for safety and protection. We must ensure continued access to asylum under U.S. law,” added Thompson.

Biden tackled some of those criticisms directly in his White House remarks.

He cast the order as the result of Republican obstruction in Congress that blocked passage of a bipartisan border deal in the Senate. That agreement would have enacted a similar asylum cap and funded additional Border Patrol agents and immigration judges, among other things.

The president also pushed back against those on the left who have chastised him for going too far.

“Doing nothing is not an option. We have to act,” he said. “We must act consistent with both our law and our values.”

Biden also said he would “in the weeks ahead … speak to how we can make the immigration system more fair and more just.”

News of the asylum crackdown, timed to come after Mexico’s presidential election, had been circulating for weeks.

Meanwhile, advocates are also expecting an order that could provide specific groups of undocumented immigrants a pathway to regularize their status.

“If the Biden-Harris administration feels they must take executive action on the border, then they can and should swiftly do the same for our nation’s mixed-status families and Dreamers who are too young to qualify for DACA,” said American Business Immigration Coalition executive director Rebecca Shi.

The White House had for months lobbied hard for the bipartisan bill in the Senate, and Biden in January said he had done all he could on the border and that it was on Congress to act.

But Tuesday’s step reflected the reality that he could not wait out the issue.

A Gallup poll published in late April found 27 percent of Americans listed immigration as the top problem facing the country, more than any other issue.

A Marquette University survey of registered voters nationwide conducted last month found 52 percent said Trump did a better job on immigration and border security, compared to 25 percent who said Biden did a better job.

Biden on Tuesday did not exactly shy away from the political implications, seeking to draw a clear contrast between his efforts to secure the border with Trump’s rhetoric and past policies.

“I will never demonize immigrants. I will never refer to immigrants as poisoning the blood of a country. Further, I will never separate children from their families at the border. I will not ban people because of their religious beliefs,” Biden said. “I will not use the U.S. military to go into neighborhoods all across the country to pull millions of people out of their homes and away from their families to detention camps while awaiting deportation as my predecessor says he will do if he occupies this office again.”

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