President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a weekend visit to the Texas-Mexico border and a new immigration plan that would allow 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to enter the country and be able to work legally for up to two years.
To qualify, migrants must apply from their home country.
As part of the plan, the Biden administration will also begin using the health emergency order, known as Section 42, to deport the same number of migrants from those four countries to Mexico if they try to enter the US illegally. According to the Department of Homeland Security, Mexico has agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants per month from these countries under Section 42.
If more than this number is detained, immigration officials will process additional migrants under standard immigration laws, which could result in deportation and a five-year ban on legal entry into the country.
Nicaragua and Venezuela will not accept their citizens who entered the US illegally. Previously, Mexico received only a limited number of migrants from Central America.
In a speech from the White House, Biden said the new actions “won’t fix our entire immigration system, but they could go a long way toward helping us better deal with this difficult task.”
Biden also said he would visit El Paso on Sunday before heading to Mexico City, where he is scheduled to meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the North American Leaders’ Summit on Monday and Tuesday. The border visit will be Biden’s first since he became president two years ago.
Immigration officials tried a similar approach with Venezuelans in October after a surge in migrants from that country, Biden said, and the result was a 90 percent drop in illegal crossings of Venezuelans.
Last month, El Paso became the epicenter of a significant increase in the number of migrants crossing the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez. Border Patrol officials released some of the migrants into downtown El Paso after they were processed, and hundreds slept outdoors in near-freezing temperatures because local shelters reached their limit.
In fiscal year 2022, which ended in September, immigration agents encountered 2.4 million migrants at the southern border – a record number.
In a separate press conference, Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Majorcas said the federal government will balance between creating new ways for migrants to legally enter the country and fighting illegal border crossings.
“We can provide humanitarian assistance in line with our values, dismantle criminal smuggling organizations and enforce our laws to improve the security of our southwestern border by reducing illegal migration,” Majorcas said.
Majorcas said if migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua or Venezuela try to cross the US, Panama or Mexico without permission after Thursday, they will not be able to participate in the new program.
“The message is clear: people should stay where they are and apply to participate in these processes,” he said.
He said the goal is to keep migrants from making dangerous journeys through several countries, where they often face danger from smugglers and dangerous jungle crossings along the way. Mallorcas highlighted the June deaths of 53 migrants in San Antonio who suffocated in a stuffy tractor-trailer after being smuggled into the country.
Mallorcas urged Congress to provide more resources to his agency to crack down on illegal border crossings and fix the “broken” immigration system.
He also dismissed criticism that the plan to send migrants to Mexico is similar to the policy adopted under the Trump administration.
“This is really unlike the previous iteration of the transit ban that the Trump administration used,” he said, adding that the application process available to migrants and the new legal pathways the agency announced Thursday made it different.
Republicans accused Biden of mishandling immigration and border policy and criticized the president for not visiting the 1,951-mile US-Mexico border during his two years in the White House. Texas shares two-thirds of the country’s border with Mexico.
“If he wants to make this trip meaningful and look for tough solutions to the disaster his policies have created, I’d be happy to point him in the right direction,” US Senator John Cornyn, D-Tex., said in his speech. written statement on Thursday.