‘Stay where you are’: President Biden unveils new steps to curb surge of migrants, plans trip to El Paso border

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden unveiled new steps Thursday aimed at stemming historic migration as he plans to visit El Paso, Texas in his first trip to the southern border since taking office. 

Facing criticism that he’s not done enough to stop illegal border crossings, Biden outlined what he called “orderly, safe and humane” ways to strengthen border control while expanding legal pathways to the U.S. The moves include immediately deporting back to Mexico migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba who enter the U.S. illegally. 

“My message is this. If you’re trying to leave Cuba, Nicaragua or Haiti, or have agreed to begin a journey to America, do not just show up at the border,” Biden said in a speech from the White House. “Stay where you are and apply legally from there.”

Biden’s first trip to the border

Biden said he will travel to El Paso on Sunday to address border enforcement operations and meet with local officials. He’s also expected to call on Congress to fully fund his border security budget request and pass legislation overhauling the immigration system. 

The trip comes before Biden on Monday visits Mexico where the most significant migration to the U.S. since World World II will take center stage in talks with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“We can’t stop people from making the journey, but we can require that they come here in an orderly way under U.S. law,” Biden said.

President Joe Biden speaks about border security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) ORG XMIT: DCPS101

What Biden announced

  • The U.S. will send back to Mexico migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba in exchange for admitting up to 30,000 people each month from those countries who have a sponsor and pass background checks. Biden said he reached an agreement with the Mexican government to accept the return of the migrants.
  • This is an expansion of a similar policy just for Venezuela that began in October and has led to a dramatic decline in the number of Venezuelans attempting to enter the U.S. illegally, according to the administration. 
  • The U.S. will let in 20,000 refugees from Latin American and Caribbean countries during the next two years, which the administration says will more than triple refugee admissions from the Western Hemisphere.
  • Migrants who attempt to enter the U.S. without permission and can’t be expelled under the Title 42 pandemic policy will increasingly be subject to “expedited removal” and a five-year ban on re-entry.

Why it matters

Biden is under pressure to detail his plans for dealing with a surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Border security is a top priority for Republicans, who took control of the House in the November midterm elections and have criticized Biden for not visiting the border. Republicans have also vowed to investigate the administration’s handling of the issue.

“It’s clear that immigration is a political issue that extreme Republicans are always going to run on. But now they have a choice,” Biden said. “They can keep using immigration to try to score political points or they can help solve the problem…and come together to fix the broken system.”

He said as long as Republicans “demagogue this issue and reject solutions” he’s left doing what he can “on my own” to address the surge of migrants.

Migrants cross and line up on the north bank of the Rio Grande on Dec. 19, 2022 to turn themselves into Border Patrol agents for processing and a chance to remain in the U.S. to seek asylum.

The background

  • Mexico trip: Biden is traveling to Mexico Jan. 9-10 to meet with to meet with Obrador. Migration will be “right at the top of the issues they will discuss,” White House spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday. Other priorities are climate change and drug trafficking, including the flow of fentanyl across the border.
  • Influx of migrants: More than 2.38 million migrants were stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the first time the number topped 2 million. That was an increase of 37% from the 1.73 million times over the previous 12 months.
  • State of emergency: El Paso Mayor Oscar Lesser declared a state of emergency last month after Border Patrol released more than 10,000 asylum seekers and other migrants in a single week. Hundreds have been sleeping on city streets.
  • Title 42: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned last month there will “total chaos” at the border if a pandemic policy that allows the federal government to rapidly expel migrants is allowed to end. The Supreme Court has said that policy, Title 42, must continue while courts assess a lawsuit filed by Republican officials in 19 states who want to keep Title 42 in place.
  • Vice President Harris: Vice President Kamala Harris, who was tasked at the start of the administration with addressing the root causes of migration, attended his speech.
Migrants crossed the Rio Grande and approach the Texas National Guard to enquire when they will be allowed to be processed by Customs and Border Protection to seek asylum in El Paso, Texas on Dec. 20, 2022.

What they are saying

  • U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he’s glad Biden will finally visit the southern border but said it can’t be a “check-the-box photo-op.” He added: “If he wants to make this a meaningful trip that seeks tough solutions to the unmitigated disaster his policies have created, I’d be happy to point him in the right direction.”
  • Biden smacked down suggestions that his visit to El Paso is the result of caving to pressure from Republicans. “Republicans haven’t been serious about this at all. Come on. They haven’t been serious about this at all,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that I knew what the outcome was – at least the near outcome was – on Title 42 before I went down.”
  • Jonathan Blazer, the American Civil Liberties Union’s director of border strategies, said Biden’s actions tie his administration “to the poisonous anti-immigrant policies of the Trump era instead of restoring fair access to asylum protections.” He said the new entry program for Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians should not be tied to an expulsion of an equal number of migrants.

  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the Biden administration plan “really has no resemblance” to the Trump administration transit ban, because this plan expands legal pathways for migrants.

The bigger picture

While taking new administrative actions, Biden continues to argue that there are underlying problems with the immigration system that can be addressed only through legislative action. But there are no indications a divided Congress will be able to reach a bipartisan agreement on such a politically charged issue.

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`Total chaos’:Texas governor warns of ‘total chaos’ on border when Title 42 ends this week

More:El Paso council members call for Biden to visit border as humanitarian crisis continues

Contributing: Francesca Chambers, Rebecca Morin and the Associated Press