Biden Announces Major Border Strategy Shift, Expands Trump Policy


WASHINGTON —  President Joe Biden will unveil a new border strategy Thursday expanding a Trump-era policy that gives border agents the power to turn back migrants without considering their claims for asylum, while also allowing thousands of migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti to apply for entry into the U.S.

It appears the administration decided that turning back migrants from Cuba and Nicaragua — two countries that have either limited or refused to accept deportations of their nationals — along with Haitians was an essential tool to lower the number of people arriving at the border. The decision, crucially, comes as Democrats continue to be hammered by Republicans over border policy, and border cities such as El Paso struggle to handle the influx of migrants crossing in recent weeks.

Biden will make his first presidential visit to the U.S. border on Sunday in El Paso after resisting Republican calls to do so over the last two years, according to a White House official. He will then travel to Mexico City to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the North America Leaders’ Summit from Monday to Tuesday.

The high number of migrants at the border has placed political pressure on the administration, as states such as Texas have sent buses full of migrants to cities including Washington and New York. Border cities have faced serious strain as the number of migrants entering has pushed city resources to a limit.

The new policy allows up to 30,000 individuals per month from Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba who have U.S.-based sponsors to enter the country legally through a humanitarian parole plan the administration had previously offered only to Venezuelans. Eligible migrants who apply for the program will be allowed to live and work in the U.S. for two years, according to officials.

At the same time, the Biden administration will continue its embrace of Title 42, the public health rule that allows border officials to immediately expel migrants who cross the U.S. border illegally to Mexico, a dramatic shift in policy that will narrow the ability of thousands of migrants who are fleeing persecution to seek asylum in the U.S.

Prominent Democrats have criticized the policy, initiated during the Trump administration, as a draconian measure that uses the guise of public health to cut off access to asylum at the border. The Biden administration sought to end Title 42 last spring, but was forced to continue it by a federal court judge. In recent months, it has begun expanding the use of the policy by turning back Venezuelans to Mexico. Now Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians will be turned away as well.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged the strain on Wednesday but said the administration is managing the volume of migrants crossing the border.

“We’re operating within a system that is fundamentally broken. No one disagrees with that. We just can’t seem to agree upon the solution and a solution is long, long overdue,” he said during a Washington Post event Wednesday. “Within the broken immigration system that we are operating, we are managing the number of encounters and we are prepared to address the end of Title 42.”

Officials said they continue to believe Title 42 should be lifted but would continue the administration’s new policy under Title 8, the federal immigration law that allows for expedited removal of migrants who are ineligible for asylum or are unable to prove a legal basis to remain in the U.S.

Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans are more difficult to deport than people of other nationalities, due to diplomatic tensions with those countries. U.S. officials have been unable to send them back to their home countries in significant numbers.

Administration officials believe the similar approach for Venezuelans — the expulsions to Mexico and the parole program — was a success.

The administration described its dual approach as a way to deter Venezuelans from putting their lives in danger by crossing the Darién Gap — a jungle that joins Colombia and Panama — and entering the U.S. without authorization.

The parole program, which was modeled after an effort to speed up processing at border crossings for Ukrainians who fled after the Russian invasion, gained immediate interest from Venezuelans and those in the U.S. who sought to sponsor them. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 Venezuelans were turned around at the border to Mexico in October and November, according to agency statistics.

The two policies, working conjointly, have reduced the number of Venezuelans who crossed the southwest border without authorization from 1,100 a day on average before mid-October to just around 100 a day, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokesman. As of Nov. 30, more than 14,000 Venezuelans had been vetted and received approval to travel to the United States under the parole program. More than 5,900 had arrived lawfully as of Nov. 30.