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Biden bans asylum for migrants who illegally cross U.S. border

Migrants caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border could be denied the chance to claim asylum and be quickly deported or turned back to Mexico under new restrictions announced on Tuesday, part of a sweeping enforcement effort by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Ban attacked by critics on both sides of political spectrum

Two people carrying large backpacks stand on grass outside a government building holding paperwork.
People who were allowed into the country with a CBP One application appointment wait across the port of entry in Brownsville, Texas, on Tuesday, after U.S. President Joe Biden announced a sweeping border security enforcement effort. (Veronica Gabriela Cardenas/Reuters)

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday instituted a broad asylum ban on migrants caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, a major enforcement move in the run-up to the November election that will decide control of the White House.

Migrants caught crossing illegally could be quickly deported or turned back to Mexico under the measure, which will take effect just after midnight. There will be exceptions for unaccompanied children, people who face serious medical or safety threats and victims of trafficking, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said.

Biden, a Democrat, has toughened his approach to border security as immigration has emerged as a top issue for Americans in the run-up to the Nov. 5 election. He is expected to face Republican Donald Trump, who made a hardline stance on immigration a centrepiece of his administration and vowed a wide-ranging crackdown if re-elected.

Biden took office in 2021 vowing to reverse some of Trump's restrictive immigration policies but grappled with record levels of migrants caught crossing illegally, a trend that has strained U.S. border authorities and cities receiving new arrivals.

During a White House news conference explaining the proclamation, Biden said asylum access would remain available to migrants who registered for an appointment using an app known as CBP One or used other legal pathways instead of crossing illegally.

"This action will help us gain control of our border and restore order into the process," the president said. "This ban will remain in place until the number of people trying to enter illegally is reduced to a level that our system can effectively manage."

A man in a navy blue suit with a blue-and-yellow striped tie stands at a podium with American flags in the background.
U.S. President Joe Biden announces an executive order on enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border, from the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Even as Biden rolled out new restrictions, he criticized Trump's most controversial policies, including separating migrant families at the border and comments that immigrants in the U.S. illegally were "poisoning the blood of our country."

"I will never demonize immigrants," Biden said.

When it comes to immigration policy, registered voters prefer Trump over Biden by a 17 percentage-point margin, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in mid-May.

Some details of plan unclear

The new asylum ban becomes active when the daily average of border arrests tops 2,500 over a week, and figures are currently higher than that, officials said on a call with reporters, requesting anonymity as a condition of the call.

U.S. border arrests averaged 4,300 per day in April, according to the most recent government statistics available.

The ban will be paused when arrests drop below an average of 1,500 per day for three weeks. The last time crossings fell to that level was in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in July 2020, when global travel was at historic lows.

Key operational questions about the measure's implementation remained unclear, including how the administration would quickly deport migrants from far-away and unco-operative countries and how many non-Mexican migrants Mexico would accept under the new enforcement regime.

The new restrictions resemble similar policies implemented by Trump and use a legal statute known as 212(f), which served as the underpinning for Trump's travel bans blocking people from several majority-Muslim nations and other countries.

The Biden ban was attacked by critics on both sides of the political spectrum on Tuesday.

Dozens of men line up in front of a border patrol agent dressed in a green uniform.
Migrants from Jordan, China, Egypt and Colombia surrender to a border patrol agent after crossing into the U.S. from Mexico in Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif., on May 15. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the organization intended to sue over the new restrictions. The group and other immigrant advocacy organizations have criticized Biden for adopting Trump-like policies and backtracking on U.S. legal obligations to asylum seekers.

In advance of the announcement, Trump's campaign issued a statement criticizing Biden for high levels of illegal immigration and said the move to exempt unaccompanied minors would encourage child trafficking.

Republicans also slammed Biden's moves as politically motivated and insufficient.

'People give up everything they have'

Biden has pushed unsuccessfully for months to pass a Senate bill crafted by a bipartisan group that would toughen border security, but Republicans rejected it after Trump opposed it.

In addition to the latest measure, the Biden administration has taken a number of steps over the past year to toughen the asylum process, including issuing a regulation in May 2023 that heightened the standard for an initial asylum claim.

WATCH | Biden imposes broad asylum ban on migrants caught at U.S.-Mexico border: 

Biden announces new measures to deter illegal border crossings

1 month ago
Duration 2:38
Joe Biden has signed an executive order to temporarily block some migrants seeking asylum from entering the United States. The policy is widely seen as one of the most restrictive by a recent Democratic U.S. president.

The number of migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally dropped in recent months, a trend U.S. officials partly attribute to increased Mexican enforcement.

Claudia Sheinbaum was elected Mexico's first female president in a landslide victory on Sunday and will take office on Oct. 1. Biden's border restrictions could put pressure on Sheinbaum, the successor to current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to keep illegal border crossings down.

Biden thanked López Obrador on a phone call Tuesday for his continued co-operation on immigration, and the Mexican president, at his daily news conference, said the two countries "have been making good progress" on the issue.

Enrique Lucero, the director of migrant affairs in Tijuana, Mexico, warned that the new measures could overwhelm migrant shelters as more people will be stuck waiting or returned. He said he thought desperate people would continue to find ways to cross the border illegally.

"The question is where are all those people going to go?" Lucero said. "Many will end up on the streets or prey to traffickers."

Across the border from Tijuana in San Diego, a 31-year-old Colombian man who identified himself as John said he spent eight days and 20 million Colombian pesos ($7,900 Cdn) to cross into the U.S. and seek asylum. He's now waiting for an immigration court hearing.

"It would have been very painful to have to start over, in debt," John said. "People give up everything they have."