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Biden announces asylum restrictions to ‘control border’

President Joe Biden has issued sweeping new executive actions aimed at curbing record migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border that have left him politically vulnerable in an election year.

The new actions allow officials to quickly remove migrants who enter the U.S. illegally without processing their asylum claims.

That will happen once a daily threshold is reached and the border is “overwhelmed,” the White House said in a statement.

The US has also unveiled new actions aimed at speeding up cases and easing pressure on America’s overburdened immigration courts.

Biden spoke about the order at an event Tuesday afternoon with several mayors of border cities. He said that “this action will help us gain control of our border.”

However, some immigration activists have already criticized the move.

“It’s unfortunate that politics is taking the immigration conversation in an increasingly restrictive direction,” said Jennie Murray, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum.

In his speech, the president criticized Republicans for not passing bipartisan immigration reform earlier this year — and asked progressive critics of the new executive action to “be patient.”

“We are stretched thin right now. Doing nothing is not an option.”

More than 6.4 million migrants entering the US illegally have been stopped during Joe Biden’s administration.

The number of migrants has fallen sharply this year, although experts believe this trend is unlikely to continue.

About a dozen lawyers and Democratic lawmakers had their own news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, criticizing Mr. Biden’s decision.

Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the executive action and called it a “step in the wrong direction.”

However, the campaign for Donald Trump, Biden’s Republican challenger for the presidency, claimed Tuesday morning that the order “is for amnesty, not for border security.”

In its statement after the action was unveiled, the White House said the new actions “will be effective when the high number of encounters at the southern border exceeds our ability to achieve timely consequences, as is the case today.”

The actions announced Tuesday include using a 1952 law that allows restricting access to the U.S. asylum system.

The law, known as 212(f), allows a US president to “suspend the entry of foreign nationals” if their arrival would be “detrimental to the interests” of the country.

The same scheme was used by the Trump administration to ban immigration and travel from several predominantly Muslim countries and to deny migrants access to asylum if they were apprehended while illegally entering the US, prompting accusations of racism.

“While there is no doubt that the U.S. must better address challenges at the border, the use of 212(f) authority is concerning,” Murray said.

Representative Jayapal, a Democrat, later told the BBC that she is concerned about the actions leading to legal battles.

”When Donald Trump did this, the ACLU filed a lawsuit and it was declared unconstitutional… this is another executive order. So things could be different,” she said.

But she added: ‘We are at serious risk of breaking our own laws.’

The restrictions will take effect when the seven-day average for daily crossings reaches 2,500, US officials told reporters on Tuesday.

It will only reopen to asylum seekers if the average number over a seven-day period remains at 1,500, with the border reopening to migrants two weeks later.

“These actions will take effect when the southern border is overwhelmed, and they will make it easier for immigration officials to quickly remove individuals who have no legal basis to remain,” the White House said.

Other actions include measures aimed at quickly resolving immigration cases in court, and expediting deportations of those who have no legal basis to remain in the US.

Asylum processing at ports of entry will continue under the order.

About 1,500 asylum seekers go through the process at official border crossings every day, usually after making appointments using a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) app known as CBP One.

Administration officials say the changes are likely to face legal challenges from immigration lawyers or Republican-led states.

The government plans to defend the new policy in court.

Guerline Jozef, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance — which works with Haitian migrants at the border — called the announcement “a direct attack on the basic human right to seek asylum.”

“These Trump-era policies will leave thousands of vulnerable individuals, including families, children and those fleeing violence and persecution, without the protection and sanctuary they need,” Jozef said.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, senior administration officials pushed back on comparisons to Trump-era policies, noting that the new rules only apply during periods of increased arrivals.

They said exceptions have been made for unaccompanied and trafficked children.

Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized Biden’s border plan as an election-year ruse.

They claim that US laws already exist to prevent illegal immigration, but are not being properly enforced by the Democratic president.

Officials and the White House have tried to blame Republicans for standing in the way of a bipartisan border security deal that collapsed earlier this year.

“Republicans in Congress chose to put party politics above our national security,” the White House said.

Recently released CBP statistics show that approximately 179,000 “encounters” with migrants were recorded in April.

By comparison, in December this number rose to 302,000 – an all-time high.

Officials in the U.S. and Mexico have said increased enforcement by Mexican authorities is largely responsible.

The decline in the number of migrants crossing the US border comes at a politically charged time for President Biden.

Polls show that immigration is a top electoral concern for many voters in November’s presidential election.

A Gallup poll in late April found that 27% of Americans view immigration as the most important problem facing the country, surpassing the economy and inflation.

A separate poll conducted in March by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that two-thirds of Americans now disapprove of Biden’s handling of the border, including about 40% of Democratic voters.

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