President Joe Biden is pledging to get tough on the border, but the measures he proposed won't alleviate the crisis unless he starts enforcing the laws on the books, immigration experts say.
At the center of Biden's plan to deter migrants from flooding to the border is a mobile phone application that allows migrants in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba to apply for asylum from their home country. But critics say that until the Biden administration enforces federal law that mandates the detention of all migrants, even those with credible asylum claims, until they come before an immigration judge, migrants will continue to flood to the border.
Without enforcing that law, those who cross the southern border and claim a credible fear of returning home will simply be released into the United States. Biden's proposal, which makes it easier for migrants to get into the country, sidesteps that central problem, experts say.
"This program started with Ukraine, expanded to Venezuela, and now includes three other countries. It will be expanded further and further because the Biden administration looks for any way to staunch the flow at the border that doesn't include enforcing the laws," a senior Department of Homeland Security official told the Washington Free Beacon. "They have learned nothing in two years and figure packing airports with immigrants will relieve the pressure amassing at the border. Something for Americans to think about as they experience long lines at customs."
Given court backlogs, asylum seekers may not see an immigration judge for years. In the meantime, they can live in the United States, get work permits, and apply for social services in some cities and states. Even if their asylum claims are ultimately denied, the Biden administration has ground deportations to a halt, with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement removing the smallest number of illegal aliens since 2015.
Although Biden pointed to studies showing that pilot versions of the program led to a lower number of Venezuelans applying for asylum, the total number that aimed to apply is unknown due to migrants who were never detained by law enforcement. In 2022, Customs and Border Protection recorded more than half a million "known gotaways," a jump from 2021 when there were fewer than 400,000 such cases.
When announcing the plan earlier this month, Biden said migrants who cross into the United States without using this new framework will be subjected to "new consequences," including expedited removal. But Biden has thus far been apprehensive about using expedited removal, a power his administration has had since entering office. Law enforcement in November, for example, used expedited removal on less than 5 percent of the over 140,000 migrants apprehended on the southern border. That rate is far below years past, which averaged in the low 20s from 2012 to 2020.
Critics of the Biden administration's plan also say allowing 30,000 migrants a month from those select countries, which comes out to hundreds of thousands annually, will overwhelm public services. Democratic mayors have bristled at Republican governors sending migrants to their cities, such as New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., and have claimed they cannot support such a rapid influx of outsiders.
"This is mass immigration by another means. These foreigners need to go somewhere, but this administration has no plan," said Center for Immigration Studies director of investigations and former ICE chief of staff Jon Feere. "From public education to housing to welfare, this administration doesn't care about the strain this will inflict on social services."
Biden this week met with Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador to discuss issues related to border security, including illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The White House gave few details on what the meeting accomplished, and a White House summary of Biden's meeting said the two presidents "reaffirmed their commitment to implement innovative approaches to address irregular migration."