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Biden's New Asylum Policy Is Trump Lite

While he was president, Donald Trump latched onto a public-health law (Title 42) to ban asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. because they might be bringing COVID-19 with them. That rule was tied to his declaration of a health emergency due to the pandemic. Joe Biden is going to end the emergency on May 11, and with it will vanish the ban on "infected" immigrants. However, Biden does not want to flood the country with a couple of years' worth of backlog, so he is adopting an immigration policy that might be described as Trump Lite. He has repeatedly said that he would prefer Congress to overhaul the immigration laws, but since Congress is bitterly divided, he knows that won't happen any time soon, so he is going to do his best alone.

The new rule will bar migrants from applying for asylum in the U.S. if they fail to apply in the country they first entered after leaving their own country. For migrants from Central America who come by land to the U.S., that country is Mexico. So anyone entering on land from Mexico will be rejected out of hand. Asylum shopping is not allowed. People who fly from anywhere in Central America directly to the U.S. or arrive by boat in Florida will be allowed to apply for asylum.

Biden understands that absent some kind of rule like this, the border will be overrun with immigrants requesting asylum. However much sympathy he may have with them on a personal level, he also understands that if he does nothing, Republicans are going to spend the next 2 years screaming that Democrats support open borders. Politically, that is not a winner for him. He has to do something and this new policy has some basis in (international) law.

Needless to say, immigration advocates are already working on their lawsuits, hoping the courts will block this new policy. Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, a former Obama Administration official, said the new rule "reaches into the dustbin of history to resurrect one of the most harmful and illegal anti-asylum policies of the Trump administration." Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) called on Biden to "abandon this misguided policy now." And there are many more critics. ACLU is planning to sue, as well.

Biden has responded to these criticisms with a new app. There is an app for everything. This particular app allows migrants to schedule an appointment for consideration. Of course, the number of judges available for handling cases will not suddenly jump up as a result of the new app, so the next available appointment might be in August. Maybe August 2024. Biden also repeated his position that immigration law is a job for Congress. If Congress wants to change the way asylum is handled, it should pass a law directing how it should be done. But he isn't naive enough to be expecting such a law during his first term, so he is acting unilaterally for the moment. (V)

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