The Biden administration announced moves this week to tackle a surge in Venezuelan migration across the southern border, but the combination of an expansion of Title 42 expulsions and a new humanitarian parole path has upset lawmakers and activists on both the right and the left.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that it is launching a new large-scale border enforcement operation with Mexico combined with an expansion of removals of Venezuelan nationals.
The campaign will see Mexico and the U.S. increase checkpoints for migrants, collaborate on targeting human smuggling operations and surge in resources and law enforcement personnel.
But crucially, the cooperation also means that all Venezuelans entering the U.S. illegally would now be returned to Mexico under the Title 42 public health order. Venezuelans had not been returned under the order due to a lack of diplomatic relations with Venezuela and a refusal by Mexico to take them.
BIDEN ADMIN ANNOUNCES BORDER OP WITH MEXICO, INCREASED REMOVALS OF VENEZUELANS
At the same time, the administration is launching a new parole program to provide a legal pathway for Venezuelan nationals to fly to the U.S. Capped at just 24,000, the humanitarian parole program requires Venezuelans to have a supporter in the U.S. to provide financial and other support, pass biometric and other security screenings, and complete public health requirements including vaccinations. It’s similar to a program announced earlier in the year for eligible Ukrainians. Nationals would be ineligible for the program if they have previously been deported, have crossed into the U.S. or into Mexico illegally.
The measures come as the administration is continuing to deal with a historic border crisis of more than 2.1 million encounters this fiscal year alone — including a recent surge in nationals from Venezuela.
There were more than 25,000 encounters of Venezuelan migrants in August, up from just 4,000 in April. In August last year there were just over 6,000 migrant encounters from Venezuela. It’s led to increased political pressure on the administration, with governors of Texas, Arizona and Florida transporting migrants north — many of them Venezuelan.
The administration sought to present the actions as prioritizing lawful entry and dissuading illegal entry.
“These actions make clear that there is a lawful and orderly way for Venezuelans to enter the United States, and lawful entry is the only way,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “Those who attempt to cross the southern border of the United States illegally will be returned to Mexico and will be ineligible for this process in the future. Those who follow the lawful process will have the opportunity to travel safely to the United States and become eligible to work here.”
But the program saw a mixed reception from both the left and the right. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, praised the administration’s legal pathway, but hit the administration hard for expanding Title 42 — a move he called “inexcusable.”
“Expanding Title 42 to now include Venezuelans adds salt to an open wound while further eroding our asylum system that President Biden promised to restore,” he said in a statement.
He called for the administration to reconsider the expulsion, remove some restrictions on the parole program, and continue to seek the end of Title 42 in the courts as it has been doing.
Meanwhile, immigration activists were similarly upset with the policy. Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, accused the administration of making “an end run around our humanitarian obligations.”
“By bending to the callous whims of Republican governors in Texas, Arizona and Florida as this country gears up for midterm elections, the Biden Administration has taken multiple steps backwards in time to the cruel immigration policies of Donald Trump,” he said in a statement.
HOUSE REPUBLICANS URGE BIDEN ADMIN TO ‘TAKE EVERY POSSIBLE STEP’ TO STOP ILLEGAL MIGRATION FROM VENEZUELA
Dozens of non-governmental organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch, RAICES and the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote to Mayorkas expressing “deep disappointment and shock” at the announcement of expanded Title 42 removals.
“While we welcome steps to provide safe processing for some Venezuelans, the creation of safe pathways should never be wielded to deny other people seeking protection access to asylum,” they wrote in a letter. “We are also troubled that the announcement refers to attempted entry at the southern border by Venezuelans as ‘illegal.’”
Meanwhile, the announcement was not well-received by Republicans and groups on the right, either.
IMMIGRATION ACTIVISTS DISMAYED AT BIDEN MOVE TO EXPAND TITLE 42 TO VENEZUELAN ILLEGAL MIGRANTS
House Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member John Katko called the move a “cynical and inadequate attempt to ‘address’ the unprecedented crisis at the southwest border of which this administration has completely lost control.”
“With the midterm election just around the corner, the Biden administration sees the writing on the wall and is merely trying to place a band-aid on a hemorrhaging border to save face,” the Republican said in a statement.
Describing it as a “PR stunt” he said the policy was also “ripe for abuse and will likely contribute to migrants providing inaccurate information about their country of origin as they attempt to enter the interior of the country.”
Meanwhile, hawkish immigration groups remained unimpressed. “If Venezuelans can be turned back to Mexico — why can’t all migrants, regardless of country of origin?” RJ Hauman, head of government relations and communications at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) told Fox News Digital on Wednesday.
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The new policy did receive some praise from Democrats, however. In New York, where officials have been overwhelmed with the migrant surge coming north via buses and other means of transport, said the move would stem the flow of individuals.
“While details are still emerging, this federal action is a short-term step to address this humanitarian crisis and humanely manage the flow of border crossings,” NYC Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement, while arguing that a “long-term and proactive strategy is still needed” from Congress.
“We are grateful to President Biden and his administration for our ongoing dialogue to address this humanitarian crisis and look forward to continuing to work closely with them moving forward,” he said.