Immigration Is Back in American Political Debate

More than 1 million people have been arrested over the past six months after attempting to cross the border illegally. The crisis in Latin America in large measure explains this increase. The situation is provoking tension within the Biden administration.

It presents a new pitfall for Joe Biden and his fragile majority. Democrats are struggling to agree on how to manage the new crisis brewing at the border between the United States and Mexico. A 20-year record fell in March: 210,000 people were arrested for having attempted illegal entry into the United States. That is 24% more than the same period last year, which had already seen a peak influx, bringing the total to more than 1 million over the past six months.

This new surge does not change the position of the White House, which has promised to revoke a measure enacted by Donald Trump that aided expulsion. The preceding administration applied Title 42 of the United States Code, which permits the border patrol to expel or refuse entry of individuals on health grounds because they pose a threat or have passed through countries exposed to illness. Since taking office a year ago, Biden has continued to enforce the regulation, accounting for more than half of the expulsions in the last six months.

A New Line

The White House recognizes that ending the use of Title 42 would lead to an increase in illegal entries. But according to the White House, this measure is temporary and the global health situation has improved. The administration needs to stop resorting to Title 42 by the end of May and, until then, prepare to manage a delicate situation. In the worst case, the White House foresees 18,000 illegal crossings per day, triple the rate observed since Biden took office.

At the same time, the Biden administration needs to implement a new policy entrusting responsibility to specialized agents who will examine the files of asylum seekers instead of judges. This change could extend the deadlines of asylum applications. These announcements have angered Republicans, who are threatening to reject an additional $10 billion in assistance earmarked for a possible resurgence of COVID-19 in the coming weeks.

Economic and Political Immigration

But Republicans are not the only ones who are protesting. Several Democratic elected officials have joined the movement: Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, and Mark Kelly of Arizona, all from states where the race promises to be tight in November’s midterm elections. They have called to postpone the new measures and are seeking time to develop a new plan to deal with the influx. For them, the situation is all the more urgent as 1.7 million cases are still pending. “It’s going to be a crisis on top of a crisis,” Kelly said.

Several factors explain the return of immigrants. Numerous Latin American countries have seen their economies suffer from the pandemic, then from inflation. The political situation in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela has also pushed hundreds of thousands of nationals from these countries to try their luck in the United States.

In March, more than 32,000 Cubans crossed the border illegally, almost as many as in all of 2021. Having long dealt with this separately, the U.S government is coping with a toughening of immigration entry rules for three years. The authorities also stopped more than 5,000 Ukrainians last month, while some were provisionally authorized to remain in the United States for humanitarian reasons.

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