Democrats Urge White House to Reverse New Asylum Limits

January 26, 2023

A group of Congressional Democrats are urging President Biden to reverse plans to limit asylum access for some migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a letter published Thursday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) were among 77 Democrats who expressed “great concerns” about a series of initiatives aimed at limiting migrants at the southern border. 

“Now, we recognize that the United States is experiencing a difficult migration challenge at the southern border,” Menendez said at a press conference Thursday morning. “But as elected officials, we are duty bound to propose legal solutions, ones that protect asylum-seekers while also securing the safe removal of migrants who have no legal claim to stay in the United States.”

Earlier this month the Biden Administration announced a revamped strategy that paired increased expulsions with expanded opportunities for migrants—especially those from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti who have U.S.-based sponsors—to enter the country legally. The policy is based on a program that offered safe haven to displaced Ukrainians and Venezuelans.

Simultaneous to the opportunities for sponsored migrants, others from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela would face expulsion to Mexico under the public health order known as Title 42 if they enter the U.S. unlawfully.

Title 42 is a decades-old clause in the health code that allows the government to take emergency action to stop the “introduction of communicable diseases” into the U.S., but it had been rarely used until the Trump Administration implemented it as an immigration policy when the Covid pandemic struck. The Biden Administration has continued its use.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in February on Title 42’s legality as it continues to be applied to cases on the southern border. A ruling is expected in June.

Meanwhile, the latest measures by the Administration have led to a sharp drop in unlawful entries along the southern border. On Wednesday, the White House credited the strategy with a 97% decrease in the number of migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela entering U.S. border custody per day.

In their letter, the Democratic lawmakers wrote that while they “applaud the creation” of additional legal pathways for migrants to seek protection, it “is disappointing that these pathways come at the expense of the legal right to seek asylum at the southern border.”

The lawmakers also urged the Administration to rethink plans to issue a rule that would restrict asylum eligibility for migrants who pass through a third country en route to the U.S.-Mexico border and fail to seek asylum there.

The letter to Biden was not signed by Democratic leaders in either the Senate or House, who have been generally supportive of the Administration’s border strategy.

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