Biden speaks on new immigration actions restricting asylum

President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 4, 2024. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced new executive actions aimed at addressing surges of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border unlawfully by placing new thresholds on those allowed to seek asylum.

Biden spoke from the White House about the new measure, which his administration said will accomplish immigration reform that lawmakers have been unable to deliver.

"I've come here today to do what the Republicans in Congress refuse to do: take the necessary steps to secure our border," Biden said. 

He was surrounded by various officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and local lawmakers dealing with border issues.

The decision comes as Biden continues to face political headwinds on immigration in the 2024 campaign, and just weeks before he is set to debate his election rival former President Donald Trump. The new actions are a policy shift for Biden, who told reporters earlier this year that he'd "done all I can do" unilaterally on the border.

The steps establish a rule that will turn away migrants who cross illegally between ports of entry and try to claim asylum after seven consecutive days of more than 2,500 encounters. That limit will then be lifted only if there have been 14 days of encounters at 1,500 or less, according to administration officials.

"If an individual chooses not to use our legal pathways, if they choose to come without permission and against the law, they'll be restricted from receiving asylum and staying in the United States," Biden said.

Migrants seeking asylum between ports of entry will begin to be turned away starting at midnight, according to a White House official.

The new rule is sure to face swift legal challenges, with the American Civil Liberties Union stating its intention to bring the administration to court.

For months, Republicans have called on Biden to use executive power to make changes at the border. But they were highly critical of the new actions ahead of his announcement.

Speaker Mike Johnson, at his weekly press conference with House Republican leadership earlier Tuesday, criticized Biden for not acting earlier and called the measure itself "weak."

"It's window dressing. Everybody knows it," Johnson said. "If he was concerned about the border, he would have done this a long time ago."

Across the Capitol, Senate Republicans offered a similar response in their own press conference specifically to address Biden's action.

"It is a shell game. They are not serious about it," Texas Sen. John Cornyn said. "This is a conversion baked on the proximity of the next election and sinking poll numbers. And we think it deserves to be called out for what it is."

Meanwhile, the White House is hitting Republicans for tanking a bipartisan bill that included more sweeping immigration and border security reforms at the direction of Trump -- who is ratcheting up his anti-immigrant rhetoric this election cycle and making it a centerpiece of his agenda.

"Twice this year alone, congressional Republicans blocked the toughest, fairest bipartisan border security legislation in modern history, which President Biden was crucial to putting together and which the Border Patrol Union and the Chamber of Commerce endorsed," senior deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a memo on Tuesday.

Democratic leadership echoed that sentiment in their weekly press conference.

"Republicans are more concerned about keeping this as a campaign issue than they are about governing and solutions," House Democratic Caucus leader Pete Aguilar told reporters. "Bottom line is that House Democrats believe we can and should secure our border while opening up more legal pathways."

But not all Democrats are on board with the administration's new actions. Some have expressed disappointment, and others fear it could backfire on Biden.

"My concern about this executive order is it's trying to be all tough on the border, and it's not going to fix anything. And it confuses the message about what we stand for," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Rep. Nanette Barragán, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called the move a "mistake" and said it should be paired with "positive actions and protections for undocumented folks that have been here for a long time."

Biden, in his White House remarks, addressed critics who said his policy goes too far.

"For those that say the steps I've taken are too strict, I say to you that be patient, and goodwill in the American people are wearing thin right now," Biden said. "Doing nothing is not an option. We have to act."

He also sought to emphasize the differences between his approach to immigration with that of Trump. The former president and presumptive GOP nominee has vowed to deport millions of undocumented migrants, reinstate travel bans and more if elected.

"I will never demonize immigrants," Biden said. "I will never refer to immigrants as to poisoning the blood of a country. And further, I'll never separate children from their families at the border. I will not ban people from this country because of their religious beliefs. I will not use the U.S. military to go into neighborhoods all across the country to pull millions of people out of their homes and away from their families to put detention camps while awaiting deportation, as my predecessor says he will do."

Wednesday, June 5, 2024 at 6:29AM by Alexandra Hutzler, ABC News Permalink