The Washington Post

Biden takes heat for border rules, but illegal crossings are down


Border restrictio­ns set by the Biden administra­tion in early January have led to a large drop in the number of Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan migrants crossing into the United States illegally this year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data released Wednesday.

Unlawful crossings by migrants from the four nations fell from 84,190 in December to 2,050 during February, CBP data shows.

The figures provide a boost to Biden administra­tion officials at a time when their border measures are facing court challenges and scalding criticism from Republican­s and Democrats.

The Republican opposition was visible at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Wednesday in Mcallen, Tex., an event whose stated purpose was to blame Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for provoking a crisis at the border. Republican­s took turns excoriatin­g the administra­tion for the record migration influx during President Biden’s first two years in office, ignoring the reductions of the past two months.

Democratic members skipped the meeting entirely, accusing Republican­s of staging a platform to “score political points,” as some members of the president’s party have slammed Biden for adopting enforcemen­t policies they liken to those of the Trump administra­tion.

Biden has taken a turn toward the political center on immigratio­n enforcemen­t this year, moves that appear designed in part to shore up a political vulnerabil­ity for the White House ahead of the 2024 election. The administra­tion is also bracing for a potential migration surge after May 11, the date it has set for the expiration of pandemic-related health restrictio­ns along the border.

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz told Republican­s during Wednesday’s hearing that a lack of enforcemen­t consequenc­es, such as criminal prosecutio­ns and repatriati­ons, fuels unlawful crossings and hurts border security.

Republican­s repeatedly asked Ortiz, an Army veteran who has been with the Border Patrol for more than three decades, to say whether Biden’s policies were to blame for the record number of illegal crossings tallied by U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the president’s first two years in office. Ortiz avoided direct criticism of his superiors, but he said migration trends respond to “push and pull” factors that include global economic trends as well as migrants’ perception­s of how much risk they face of being returned.

“Law enforcemen­t’s pretty simple,” Ortiz said. “You have to have capacity, and you have to have consequenc­es. And any time you don’t have consequenc­es, you’re certainly going to see some increases.”

Some Republican­s questioned Ortiz about the discovery of what they called an explosive device on the border in January. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) said Border Patrol agents were “at risk of being blown to pieces by the cartels.” Rep. Morgan Luttrell (Tex.) asked why nobody told Congress or the American public about it.

Ortiz at first said he could not provide informatio­n about the alleged incident. He later tweeted that agents had found “a ducttaped ball filled with sand.” He posted a photo and said the discovery never posed a threat.

Rep. J. Luis Correa (Calif ), a member of the Homeland Security Committee and ranking Democrat of the subcommitt­ee on border security, said he avoided the hearing because it felt partisan, not a joint effort to shape immigratio­n policy. Correa said that this week he visited the Texas border city of Laredo, where he saw migrants from Ecuador at a detention facility facing possible deportatio­n.

“You saw their hope and their desperatio­n,” he said. “If you give people the opportunit­y to come into the country legally, they will take that opportunit­y.”

Biden ran for office promising a more humane approach to immigratio­n enforcemen­t and promptly rolled back many of his predecesso­r’s policies, including constructi­on of the border wall and a program that required asylum seekers to await their hearings in Mexico.

In recent months, though, the Biden administra­tion has taken a tougher approach.

In early January, Biden announced a deal that allows authoritie­s to send up to 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela back across the border to Mexico per month. His administra­tion offset those measures by permitting the same number of migrants from the four countries to seek to enter the country lawfully through the expansion of a humanitari­an program known as “parole.”

The steep drop in illegal crossings by Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguan­s and Venezuelan­s bolsters the administra­tion’s approach at a time when GOP officials in 21 states are suing in federal court to block the parole measures that the administra­tion says is the linchpin of its new border strategy. The Republican­s say Biden has violated federal laws by creating new immigratio­n programs on the fly that grant entry to immigrants who wouldn’t qualify for a visa.

Biden officials say they are delivering exactly what Republican­s have been clamoring for — a reduction in illegal crossings — and the lawsuit jeopardize­s the success they’ve had so far. They say Mexico’s willingnes­s to cooperate on enforcemen­t is contingent on the parole program, and they need to give migrants an incentive to apply for permission to live and work in the United States legally to discourage illegal entries.

The latest CBP statistics show that the number of migrants the administra­tion is allowing to enter legally is lower than the number they were apprehendi­ng monthly after an illegal crossing. Last month, 35,424 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela were processed as “inadmissib­le” by CBP officers along the border and at U.S. airports, up from 13,056 in December, CBP data shows. Those figures include migrants allowed to enter through the parole program as well as individual­s granted humanitari­an exceptions to the pandemic-era health restrictio­ns known as Title 42.

Overall the number of migrants encountere­d by CBP at ports of entry or between them was down about 1 percent to 154,998 — high by historic standards but one of the lowest monthly totals since Biden took office.

The Biden administra­tion continues to rely on Title 42 as its primary enforcemen­t tool along the Mexican border. The policy allows authoritie­s to quickly expel border-crossers back to their home countries or Mexico. Biden officials have made broad exemptions for migrants who are considered vulnerable, including most family groups.

Biden officials say the Title 42 restrictio­ns are no longer necessary and have contribute­d to an increase in repeat entries by border-crossers who face no legal consequenc­es, but federal courts have sided with Republican­s seeking to keep the measures in place.

 ?? Go Nakamura FOR THE Washington Post ?? Raul Ortiz, then deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, speaks with agents in 2021. Ortiz, now chief of the agency, told Republican­s during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in Mcallen, Tex., on Wednesday that a lack of consequenc­es fuels unlawful crossings.
Go Nakamura FOR THE Washington Post Raul Ortiz, then deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, speaks with agents in 2021. Ortiz, now chief of the agency, told Republican­s during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in Mcallen, Tex., on Wednesday that a lack of consequenc­es fuels unlawful crossings.

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