Democrats in the House and Senate said Tuesday that they were 'deeply disappointed' by a new Biden administration policy that aims to restrict the ability of some migrants to claim asylum after illegally crossing into the U.S.
'We are deeply disappointed that the Administration has chosen to move forward with publishing this proposed rule, which only perpetuates the harmful myth that asylum seekers are a threat to this nation,' Sens. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, Cory Booker, D-NJ, Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., said in a statement. 'In reality, they are pursuing a legal pathway in the United States. We have an obligation to protect vulnerable migrants under domestic and international law and should not leave vulnerable migrants stranded in countries unable to protect them. We urge President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas to reverse course and pave a better path forward that protects the right to asylum while addressing the real operational challenges at our Southern Border.'
The administration announced the new proposed rule on Tuesday to deal with the upcoming end of Title 42 -- which has been used to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants due to the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020. The rule is scheduled to end on May 11 with the end of the public health emergency and has renewed fears of a fresh migrant surge on top of the already historic number at the border.
To replace the order, the administration is proposing a rule which makes migrants automatically ineligible for asylum if they have crossed into the U.S. illegally and have not sought asylum in a country through which they have already traveled.
Unaccompanied children would be exempt, and there would be other factors that could rebut the presumption, including an acute medical emergency, being a trafficking victim and facing an 'extreme and imminent' threat to life or safety.
Migrants can still enter the U.S. to claim asylum if they have been denied by a third country, if they present themselves at a port of entry after scheduling an appointment via the new CBP One App or if they are paroled into the U.S. The policy would be a temporary one, and in place for two years.
The policy is in some ways similar to the 'transit ban' which was proposed by the Trump administration and ultimately blocked by the courts. Administration officials rejected comparisons to the transit ban, citing the existence and expansion of legal pathways available to migrants.
However, immigration activists have fumed over the policy and a lawsuit is likely. Democrats in both chambers were similarly unhappy with the move.
'We are deeply disappointed in the Biden administration’s proposal to limit access to asylum,' House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who served as ranking member on the immigration subcommittee, said in a statement.
'The ability to seek asylum is a bedrock principle protected by federal law and should never be violated,' the lawmakers said. We should not be restricting legal pathways to enter the United States, we should be expanding them,' Nadler and Jayapal said. 'Last month, we saw the positive impact new legal pathways can have on irregular migration. We hope the Biden administration will reconsider much of this proposed rule.'
The lawmakers referred to measures rolled out last month, which included a humanitarian parole program to allow up to 30,000 migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti to be paroled into the U.S. if they met certain conditions like having a sponsor and passing background checks. It was also accompanied by an expansion of Title 42 to include those nationalities.
'We are a nation of immigrants, and we are a nation of laws. We are strengthening the availability of legal, orderly pathways for migrants to come to the United States, at the same time proposing new consequences on those who fail to use processes made available to them by the United States and its regional partners,' Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement on Tuesday.
'As we have seen time and time again, individuals who are provided a safe, orderly, and lawful path to the United States are less likely to risk their lives traversing thousands of miles in the hands of ruthless smugglers, only to arrive at our southern border and face the legal consequences of unlawful entry,' he said.
The administration has pointed to a decrease in numbers crossing illegally between December and January as proof that the measures are working, while also saying the move needs to be accompanied by congressional action.
Both the administration and Democratic lawmakers have called on Republicans to back an immigration reform framework, but the GOP have rejected it due to the inclusion of a mass amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country.
Republicans, meanwhile, have blamed the ongoing migrant crisis on the Biden administration’s policies -- particularly its moves to rollback Trump-era border protections. In the House, lawmakers have raised the possibility of impeaching Mayorkas over the crisis.