By COLLEEN LONG and CHRIS MEGERIAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The banning of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border for public health reasons was imposed by a president who wanted completely restrict immigration. It will soon be ended by a president who faces growing pressure within his own party to welcome immigrants.
The way forward for President Joe Biden looks far from easy. With the end of the ban on May 23it faces an expected increase in migration across the border in a system unable to handle such large flows of migrants and awash in a backlog of more than 1.7 million asylum applications.
Republicans are already eager to blame Biden for the expected images of thousands of people likely to be crammed into temporary border facilities.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday that he would lift the asylum ban, known as Title 42, next month. The ban had become increasingly difficult to justify as pandemic restrictions ended across the country.
Many Democrats and immigration advocates saw it as nothing more than an excuse for the United States to shirk its moral and legal obligation to provide safe haven for asylum seekers at the border.
By delaying the end of Title 42 by nearly two months, Biden appeared to be seeking a political balance between liberals who want the policy dropped and moderates who joined Republicans in supporting continued restrictions. It may end up satisfying neither.
The expected influx of migrants could create a damaging political crisis for Biden ahead of November’s midterm elections. This debate will likely be based more on partisanship than on facts.
American attitudes about immigration are based on perception, not reality, said Rene D. Flores, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago who studies public opinion and immigration.
“It’s not about deciding what the most sensible immigration policy is,” he said. “It’s about managing public perception.”
The president has already faced heavy criticism from Democrats and Republicans for the way he has managed immigration. Republicans say his efforts to repeal Trump-era restrictions have led to an increase in illegal crossings. Democrats have criticized the administration’s continued use of a policy that requires migrants returning to Mexico to wait for their applications, even though that policy was reinstated by the Supreme Court.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll last year found that most Americans disapprove of the way Biden had managed a surge in the number of migrant children and an influx of Haitian migrants at the US-Mexico border. Approval of his other efforts on broader immigration policy fell short of other major issues.
Ryan Enos, a professor of government at Harvard University, doubted the end of Title 42 would change public opinion much, especially when views on immigration have become so polarized.
“Any problem other than the economy will be a marginal problem,” he said.
The seven-week gap between Friday’s order and the expiration of the asylum ban at the end of next month is intended to give authorities time to increase manpower at the border, including by mounting tents for an expected influx of asylum seekers. It also allows government officials to vaccinate more migrants at the border.
But in the meantime, it creates political confusion. Almost all migrants seeking to enter the United States will be turned away under a health authority that US officials say is no longer needed. It also gives opponents at the end of Title 42 plenty of time to pursue.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas said Biden refused to listen to Americans and had “chosen to jeopardize the safety and security of those very Americans he was sworn to protect and defend by ending Title 42 deportations.”
He said Texas must now “take even more unprecedented action to keep our communities safe by using every constitutional power to protect its own territory.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said the decision “confirms that President Biden has abdicated his responsibilities and is actively working to escalate the border crisis. From day one of his administration, he has failed to protect our nation’s security and secure the border.
On the other side, Biden faces criticism for waiting so long to act.
“The continued use of this policy – even for the next two months – is indefensible and unwarranted,” said Efrén Olivares, associate legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project.
Title 42 restrictions went into effect March 2020 under the Trump administration as coronavirus cases soared. While officials said at the time it was a way to keep COVID-19 out of the United States, there have always been criticisms that the restrictions have been used as an excuse to seal off the border to migrants. that Trump didn’t want to let in anyway. .
It was perhaps the broadest of President Donald Trump’s moves to restrict crossings and crack down on migrants, and he instituted the policy over objections from CDC officials, the AP reported. The health order has resulted in migrants being deported from the United States more than 1.7 million times since March 2020 without them being given the opportunity to seek asylum.
Biden entered office promising a return to more “humane” immigration policies after the Trump administration, which separated thousands of children from their parents at the border. But Trump has radically changed the way the US system works, reducing the number of asylum seekers allowed to enter the United States and adding restrictions that have caused the backlog of cases in immigration courts to explode.
Biden has rolled back many Trump policies and raised asylum caps, but some of his attempts have been stopped by the courts, including the effort to end the “Stay in Mexico” policy, which forces migrants to wait in Mexico for their asylum claims to be processed. The Supreme Court reinstated this policy, and there are now thousands of people in Mexico waiting for a chance to claim asylum.
Administration officials acknowledge there will likely be a large influx at the border when the ban is lifted, including Ukrainians displaced by war with Russia. The U.S. government is erecting tents, beefing up officers, hiring more civilians, and working to reduce the existing backlog of cases.
Jessica Bolter, associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, believes the hardest hit places could be Del Rio, Texas and Yuma, Arizona — places that are already overwhelmed.
“We were always going to see a significant increase in border crossings,” she said. “To some extent, the administration doesn’t have a ton of options.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that a long-term solution “can only come from comprehensive legislation that brings lasting reform to a fundamentally flawed system.”
Biden knows the prospects for Democrats and Republicans coming together on such a deal are remote.
Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Lisa Mascaro, Nomaan Merchant and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.