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Biden’s new executive order denies asylum claims to most migrants crossing the border unlawfully

Hundreds of migrants set up camp on the Rio Grande, waiting for Texas National Guard agents to let them enter the border wall in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on March 20, 2024. In the improvised camp there are infants and women, who sleep a few meters from gate 36 with the hope of being able to pass the knife fence. (Photo by Christian Torres)
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Hundreds of migrants set up camp on the Rio Grande, waiting for Texas National Guard agents to let them enter the border wall in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on March 20, 2024. In the improvised camp there are infants and women, who sleep a few meters from gate 36 with the hope of being able to pass the knife fence. (Photo by Christian Torres)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued an executive order to temporarily suspend the processing of most asylum claims at the southern U.S. border when the seven-day average of unauthorized crossings exceeds 2,500.

The president said he's taking action to "gain control" of the border, after years of high number of irregular crossings.

The measure will take effect immediately, according to the rules distributed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Under this order:

  • Migrants who cross without authorization — absent exceptional circumstances — would not be eligible for asylum, and subject to expdited removal.
  • The new rule raises the threshold to grant an asylum hearing based on a credible fear claim, that is when a migrant manifests fear of prosecution or torture in their native country or country of removal.


The restrictions will remain in place until 14 days after the seven-day average of illegal crossings drops below 1,500. The measures will go back into effect once the number reaches 2,500.
Beyond restrictions, this new rule allows permanent residents, unaccompanied children, victims of a severe form of trafficking, and other noncitizens with a valid visa or other lawful permission to enter the United States.

President Joe Biden announces an executive order which will enact immediate and significant restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Alex Brandon / AP
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AP
President Joe Biden announces an executive order which will enact immediate and significant restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Biden, who is running for reelection and has been facing criticism for the high number of migrants entering the United States, is relying on section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to implement these restrictions. This provision has been previously invoked on the grounds of national security.

“Frankly, I would have preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation because that’s the only way to actually get the kind of system we have now that is broken, fixed,” Biden said from the White House

He added that the high number of migrants arriving at the border is "the direct result of the Congress's failure to update an immigration and asylum system that is simply broken."

The rule issues in Tuesday is the same law former President Donald Trump — who is challenging Biden in this year's election— used in 2017 to ban immigration from several majority-Muslim countries, and in 2018 to suspend the right to petition asylum for migrants crossing the border illegally.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement said: "This executive action is yet another step the [Biden] administration has taken within its existing authorities to deter irregular migration," he said.

Several immigrant rights organizations criticised the Biden administration for enacting these measures.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union said it intends to challenge this order in court.

"It was illegal when Trump did it, and it is no less illegal now," said in a statement Lee Gelernt, deputy director of ACLU's Immigrants Rights Project.

Amy Fischer, the Director of Refugee and Migrant Rights at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement that Biden’s actions “set a dangerous international precedent.”

“It’s deeply disappointing to see President Biden so hellbent on dismantling human rights for people seeking asylum and implementing policies that are plainly illegal under international and refugee law,” Fischer said.

Biden said he was "doing what I can on my own" to control flow in migrants in the U.S. Southern border.

Migrants hailing from outside the Western Hemisphere will be subject to the same provisions announced Tuesday.

Biden said the U.S. will continue to work with Mexico to curtail irregular migration, and he touted avenues like the CBP One mobile app in which migrants can apply for an asylym interview from abroad without crossing the border illegally.

The president described it as a "safe and orderly manner or pursue another lawful pathway" to enter the country.

Border Patrol picks up a group of asylum seekers from an aid camp at the US-Mexico border near Sasabe, Arizona, US, on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. During the first four months of fiscal year 2024, Border Patrol recorded more than 250,000 migrant apprehensions in the Tucson sector in Arizona, the most of any region patrolled by the agency, according to federal government statistics, reports CBS. Photographer: Justin Hamel/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Bloomberg
Border Patrol picks up a group of asylum seekers from an aid camp at the US-Mexico border near Sasabe, Arizona, US, on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. During the first four months of fiscal year 2024, Border Patrol recorded more than 250,000 migrant apprehensions in the Tucson sector in Arizona, the most of any region patrolled by the agency, according to federal government statistics, reports CBS. Photographer: Justin Hamel/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Using the Immigration and Nationality Act

The section 212(f) is a provision from the Immigration and Nationality Act (1952) which empowers the president to “suspend” or restrict the entry of migrants into the country when deemed necessary.

Bill Hing, a professor of law and migration studies at the University of San Francisco, said there are many laws that prevent certain immigrants from coming to the country, like those who are members of a terrorist organization.

However, section 212(f) is more encompassing.

“[It’s] much broader,” Hing said. “It just says that the President has the power through a proclamation to restrict the entry of people who are coming to the United States, in the opinion of the President, who are detrimental to the interest of the United States.”

Hing called the language of the law “ambiguous.”

The section has been used by Democratic and Republican presidents in the past to curtail illegal migration.

For instance, in 1981 President Ronald Reagan invoked it to restrict Haitians from coming into the U.S. He also used it to suspend the entry of Cubans, Nicaraguans part of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, and Panamanians officials under the dictatorship of Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Since then, section 212(f) has been used to block certain citizens from several countries, including China, Iran, Venezuela, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania.

Lily Axelrod, an immigration attorney based in Memphis, Tenn., said these actions taken by presidents are “quite disruptive to business and family.”

Biden’s decision

President Biden’s actions on Tuesday come as the numbers of unauthorized crossings in the U.S.-Mexico border have continued to go down in recent months, defying migration patterns.

Border Patrol encounters with unauthorized migrants at the southern border peaked in December 2024. Since then, numbers have sharply decreased. In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported nearly 129,000 encounters.
Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Bloomberg
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Bloomberg via Getty Images
Border Patrol picks up a group of asylum seekers from an aid camp at the US-Mexico border near Sasabe, Arizona, US, on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. During the first four months of fiscal year 2024, Border Patrol recorded more than 250,000 migrant apprehensions in the Tucson sector in Arizona, the most of any region patrolled by the agency, according to federal government statistics, reports CBS. Photographer: Justin Hamel/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In December, Border Patrol agents made nearly 250,000 encounters with migrants between the point of entries in the Southern border — a record high.

However, those numbers have sharply decreased. In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported nearly 129,000 encounters.

Immigration policy analysts have said the numbers are due to Mexico’s enforcement of its own immigration law at their southern border with Guatemala and the northern border with the U.S.

Rolando Salinas, the mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, questioned Biden’s timing for this announcement.

Eagle Pass has been the epicenter of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s fight with the Biden administration over its handling of immigration.

“I just wish this was done back in December when our city was being hit with 2-3 thousand people per day,” Salinas told NPR in a text message. “We won’t forget those days.”

Over the last few months, Biden has been announcing narrow policies at the border, including proposing a new rule intended to speed up the removal of some migrants ineligible for asylum.

Maribel Hernandez Rivera, director of policy and government affairs for border and immigration at the ACLU, said Biden’s latest executive order will likely have a negative impact on the legal pathways of migration to the U.S.

“Whenever you do anything that bars people from applying for asylum, what you're doing is in fact disrupting the legal pathways that people have,” Hernandez Rivera said.

She said Biden’s actions are a “missed opportunity” to take action to better manage illegal crossings at the Southern border.

“That is just a repeat of what President Trump did, that is just a repeat of cruel policies,” Hernandez Rivera said.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Corrected: June 4, 2024 at 2:10 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story misstated the last name of Maribel Hernandez Rivera as Hernandez Perez.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán (SARE-he-oh mar-TEE-nez bel-TRAHN) is an immigration correspondent based in Texas.
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