Biden Says Trump Left Him ‘No Choice’ as He Moves to Seal Border

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said Republicans left him “no choice” but to act alone to head off a surge in border crossings this summer, his most significant action to address the migrant crisis that has threatened his reelection hopes.

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Biden assailed Donald Trump, his general-election opponent, for sinking a bipartisan immigration deal, calling it “an extremely cynical political move.” And he cast his actions as necessary to bring “order” to a US asylum process straining under a record influx of migrants.

“Frankly, I would have preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation,” Biden said.

The president also urged Democratic allies critical of his asylum crackdown to be patient, saying he would speak “in the weeks ahead” about how to make the immigration system “more fair and more just.”

“We must face the simple truth, to protect America as a land that welcomes immigrants, we must secure the border and secure it now,” Biden said in remarks Tuesday at the White House. “The goodwill of the American people is wearing thin. Doing nothing is not an option.”

The new measures, taking effect at midnight, will shutter the US-Mexico border to some asylum claims until the level of crossings there fall substantially and raise the threshold for people to stay in the country. Biden said the measures would stay in place until the number of people trying to enter the US illegally was reduced to a level the country could manage.

The true test of Biden’s policies will be whether he can reset perceptions over his handling of immigration without alienating voters and political allies ahead of his rematch with Trump. Trump has hammered Biden over the border crisis, with polls showing it has become a defining issue.

Biden’s actions are certain to invite legal challenges and threaten to further fracture Democrats divided over how to handle the surge.

Progressives have decried the moves as draconian, saying they will worsen a humanitarian crisis without addressing the root causes of migration, while moderates and swing-state lawmakers press the administration to slow the flow of migrants, who are straining resources in communities across the country.

Biden sought to differentiate himself from Trump, who moved to restrict immigration and has promised mass deportations if he is reelected.

“I will never demonize immigrants. I will never refer to immigrants poisoning the blood of the country,” Biden said.

Asylum Changes

The changes shut down asylum claims for people who cross between ports of entry when crossing levels are above 2,500 border encounters per day. Border crossings were already well above that metric in April, when US authorities recorded about 4,300 encounters per day with undocumented migrants between ports of entry. The restrictions will lift only when they are under 1,500 per day for at least a week.

The rule makes three key changes to processing, according to officials. Border crossers would be generally ineligible for asylum when apprehensions are above the threshold, with some exceptions. Authorities would also reduce the use credible-fear screenings and raise the threshold for those ineligible for asylum, but who claim a fear of return to their home countries, to stay in the US.

Earlier: Biden to Crack Down on Migrants by Slashing Asylum Claims

The changes apply to all non-citizens. Exceptions include people with visas that allow them to enter the US and cases of medical emergency, the officials said. Asylum claims are also still permitted by those who make appointments through the CBP One app and then arrive at a port of entry. Those cases do not count against the cap.

People will be removed in some cases within hours or days, officials said, though they acknowledged it depends on their home country. The US already conducts repatriation flights to some countries including India, according to US officials. Mexican nationals, as well as those from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, will be returned to Mexico, as was previously the case, the officials said.

Democratic efforts to revive a bipartisan immigration deal killed by Trump failed, leading Biden to act now ahead of the summer when border crossings typically rise, the US officials said.

Political Blowback

Some members of Biden’s own party decried the new policy, saying he should instead provide more help to undocumented immigrants. Ahead of Biden’s announcement, Democrat Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called the plans “very disappointing.”

Other Democrats defended Biden’s move, with Representative Annie Kuster, leader of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, saying it would “100%” help the president in swing districts.

Biden’s actions, though, are unlikely to neutralize the issue for Republicans, who see it as too little, too late.

“It’s just window dressing,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said, adding the order will not reduce chaos at the border.

Policy Challenges

Biden’s changes face a raft of obstacles both in court and on the ground. Immigrant-rights advocates are likely to sue the administration for limiting asylum access, as they did when then-President Trump rolled out a similar policy under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act called 212(f).

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lee Gelernt said the group intends to sue, while Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who helped negotiate the failed bipartisan deal, told reporters Biden’s moves would likely be struck down.

Senior officials said they’re prepared for litigation and distinguished their policy from Trump’s by noting exceptions for unaccompanied children, victims of severe trafficking and other vulnerable migrants.

Earlier: Biden, Border Crisis Loom Large in Sheinbaum’s Early Hours

The policy’s success will also depend on diplomacy and funding. The US must persuade Mexico to accept more migrants and get countries such as China and Venezuela to accept more deportation flights. US officials are working to expand that coordination, a senior official said Tuesday.

Processing and deportations are contingent on sufficient resources from Congress, which has repeatedly rebuffed Biden’s requests for supplemental border funds.

--With assistance from Ellen M. Gilmer and Steven T. Dennis.

(Updates throughout with Biden remarks)

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