Some Congressional Democrats Push Back on Biden’s Immigration Policies


President Biden at the border in El Paso, Texas, this month. Democrats are divided recent policies that limit access to asylum as a way to manage illegal migration. (Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times)

In a letter, over 70 Democrats urged the president to re-evaluate his asylum restrictions. House and Senate leaders didn’t sign on, exposing significant divisions in the party.

More than 70 Democrats in the House and the Senate urged President Biden on Thursday to reconsider his policies that limit access to asylum as a way to manage illegal migration at the southern border.

“We encourage your administration to stand by your commitment to restore and protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter, echoing pledges Mr. Biden made during the 2020 campaign.

Restrictions put in place by the Trump administration, including a pandemic-era public health measure known as Title 42, have drastically reduced migrants’ access to asylum at the southern border. The Biden administration announced this month that it would expand its use of Title 42 to immediately expel migrants from certain countries who had previously been allowed to stay in the United States temporarily and apply for asylum.

“We are therefore distressed by the deeply inconsistent choice to expand restrictions on asylum seekers,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico and Alex Padilla of California, and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Greg Casar of Texas and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona.

The top Democrats in the House and the Senate, however, did not sign the letter, exposing the divide on immigration within the president’s party at a time when the Republican-led House is also split on how to address the record level of illegal migration at the southern border.

Amid backlash from moderate members of their party, House Republicans are struggling to get enough votes for a hard-line measure that would ban access to asylum at the southern border if there is not enough detention space to hold the migrants in the United States. Even if the bill passed the House, it would die in the Democratic-led Senate. But the proposal shows just how far apart Republicans are on the issue, other than their broad agreement that Mr. Biden’s existing policies are a failure.

For years, Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over proposals to overhaul the country’s immigration laws, which are decades out of date. But the divisions within both parties over the issue make even more remote the prospect of this Congress passing any immigration reform.

In addition to limiting access to asylum for more migrants, the Biden administration simultaneously created 30,000 slots a month for a sponsor-based humanitarian parole program for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The administration on Wednesday highlighted the success of the new measures, saying that crossings by people from those countries decreased by 97 percent between Dec. 11 and Jan. 24.

In their letter, the lawmakers praised the creation of new legal pathways, but said they should not come at the expense of broader access to asylum, a legal right under U.S. and international law.

The administration has said it also plans to introduce another broader measure that would restrict access to asylum for people who cross illegally without first applying for humanitarian relief in another country along the way to the United States.

Immigration advocates and Democrats, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, say the proposal is similar to a widely condemned policy used during the Trump administration. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told the homeland security secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, that they were frustrated with the lack of consultation before the policy announcement. Last month, the four Latino senators sent a letter to the president raising concerns about the plan and have yet to receive a response.

The White House and Mr. Mayorkas deny that the policies are similar.

The high number of illegal crossings, which set a record in December, has been a political liability for the White House, with Republicans pointing to them as evidence that Mr. Biden supports “open border” policies.

The White House has been focused on finding ways to decrease the number of illegal crossings and encourage migrants to seek legal pathways, even though options are limited.


by Eileen Sullivan, Luke Broadwater contributed reporting

NY Times
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