Listen to this story:
NEW YORK – While new border measures from the Biden administration expand legal pathways for migrants to enter the country, the U.S. bishops’ chair on migration warns they also simultaneously expand expulsions – which, he said, isn’t really progress.
“We welcome the announcement of new legal pathways to the United States, but it is difficult for us to consider this progress when the same pathways are contingent on preventing those forced to flee their native land from availing themselves of the right to seek asylum at our border,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, the USCCB migration chair said in a statement. “Under this approach, many of the most vulnerable will be excluded from relief and subjected to dangerous circumstances.”
“It simply defies reason and lived realities to require those facing persecution, trafficking, and torture to only pursue protection from within those potentially life-threatening situations,” he added.
The Biden administration announced the new border enforcement actions on Jan. 5. They were dubbed in the announcement as measures that will “expand and expedite legal pathways for orderly migration and result in new consequences for those who fail to use those legal pathways.”
Under the measures, up to 30,000 migrants from each of Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba who have an eligible sponsor and pass vetting and background checks can come to the United States for two years and receive work authorization. The program is modeled after similar policies the government has offered to Venezuelans and Ukrainians who come to the States seeking safety.
Conversely, as of the Jan. 5 announcement any individuals who irregularly cross the Panama, Mexico, or U.S. border will be ineligible for the parole process and will be subject to expulsion to Mexico, which, according to the Biden administration, will accept returns of 30,000 individuals per month from Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela.
Another measure in the Biden administration’s new plan subjects individuals who attempt to enter the country without permission, do not have a legal basis to remain, and can’t be removed via Title 42, to be removed through expedited removal to their country of origin with a five-year ban on reentry.
Title 42 – a controversial Trump-era measure allowing the immediate expulsion of immigrants – also remains in place. It was scheduled to lift on Dec. 21, before the Supreme Court intervened and kept it in place. The high court on Jan. 6 said it will hear arguments on the measure on March 1.
“This is a drastic departure from the Administration’s promise to create a ‘fair, orderly, and humane’ immigration system and will only exacerbate challenges on both sides of our border,” Seitz said. “Even for those who are permitted to enter the United States, we continue to be concerned about their access to housing, work authorization, legal services, and other pressing needs.”
Other new measures include: the mobilization of additional border agents, expanded capabilities and technologies for border authorities to faster process migrants, and increased air and ground transportation capabilities to more efficiently remove migrants when warranted, or to transport migrants to less-congested border sectors to continue processing.
All of the new measures come amid a historic border crisis that has lasted for more than a year. Border agents encountered a record 2.2 million undocumented immigrants in Fiscal Year 2022, which ran from Oct. 1, 2021 – Sept. 30, 2022. In the first months of Fiscal Year 2023, which began in October, border agents have already encountered more than 550,000 migrants as the crisis continues.
In Jan. 5 remarks to the press, Biden acknowledged that the measures alone won’t fix the nation’s immigration system, but said they “can help us a good deal in better managing” the border crisis. He encouraged migrants from the aforementioned countries not to “just show up at the border,” and instead “stay where you are and apply legally from there.”
Seitz decried the approach, saying “it simply defies reason and lived realities to require those facing persecution, trafficking, and torture to only pursue protection from within those potentially life-threatening situations.”
Biden, who travels to El Paso on Sunday to see the border crisis firsthand, also put the onus on Congress for the crisis, specifically Republicans, for not passing his proposed “comprehensive” immigration reform legislation proposed when he took office in 2020.
Seitz said the U.S. bishops “share the president’s disappointment regarding the lack of bipartisan cooperation in Congress” on addressing the broken immigration system. He also agreed with an assertion the president made that the root causes of migration need to be addressed, as well.
Still, the bishop was steadfast that the administration’s new measures weren’t the best approach.
“We urge the administration to reverse its present course in favor of humane solutions that recognize the God-given dignity of migrants and provide equitable access to immigration and humanitarian pathways,” he said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg