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Biden Issues Executive Order to Deport Thousands of Asylum Seekers

Immigrant rights activists are decrying the order as being inhumane and in violation of international law.

A National Guard soldier patrols at the entrance of Shelby Park on March 12, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Tuesday that authorizes officials at the U.S.-Mexico border to immediately deport asylum seekers if they have entered the country in any manner other than through a legal port of entry — a move that will put thousands of people who are fleeing persecution in their home countries in jeopardy.

The executive order, announced by the Biden White House on Tuesday, goes into effect when the number of border crossings between legal ports of entry exceeds a threshold of 2,500. The restrictions can only be lifted when border crossings are reduced to 1,500 crossings across a certain number of days.

Prior to the order, asylum seekers entering the U.S. were granted the same rights as those who had entered at legal ports of entry, in accordance with U.S. and international law. Because border crossings between ports of entry are currently exceeding 2,500 people, the executive order could be enforced as soon as this week, resulting in mass deportations of people who crossed into the U.S. seeking protection.

Migrant advocates have fiercely condemned the move, saying that Biden has repeatedly used migrants as political pawns to appease anti-immigrant voices on the right during an election year where the issue of immigration will feature prominently.

The order utilizes Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act — the same law former President Donald Trump, Biden’s Republican opponent in the 2024 election, relied on to enact his own racist immigration orders while in office. Trump described the rule as his “magical authority” to crack down on immigration, utilizing it to enforce his egregious Muslim travel ban, restrict immigrants from countries with Black or Brown populations from coming to the U.S., and more.

Biden criticized Trump’s immigration policy when politically expedient, overturning the Muslim ban, for instance, in his first days in office. Now, he’s using the same rule to deport migrants seeking asylum in the U.S., enforcing the most restrictive immigration policy by any Democratic president in recent history.

Some Democratic lawmakers have denounced the policy, which is similar to a proposal that was included in an administration-backed bipartisan bill earlier this year (which failed when Republicans blocked its passage after Trump urged them to reject the bill for political reasons).

“We should be distinguishing ourselves from Donald Trump on immigration. We should be offering the contrast,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“I do not think that shutting down the border, quote unquote, is a remedy that will get us to where we need to be on immigration reform,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from the border state of Texas, told The Washington Post.

The executive order will undoubtedly face legal challenges from pro-immigrant rights organizations, which have noted that the action is in violation of international law.

“The Biden administration’s reported plan to cap asylum requests is a violation of U.S. refugee law and the Refugee Convention,” said Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Rights Center.

Other immigrant rights activists condemned Biden for his concessions to the right, saying that such policies criminalize migrant families and send the dangerous message that their lives are expendable.

“It’s unfortunate that politics are driving the immigration conversation in an increasingly restrictive direction,” said Jennie Murray, President and CEO of the National Immigration Forum. “While there’s no question the U.S. needs to better address challenges at the border, the use of 212(f) authority is concerning.”

Murray added:

Displacement worldwide is at record highs. People are fleeing dangerous and sometimes life-threatening situations. If we want to reduce numbers at the border, we need a reasonable conversation about alternative ways for people to make their cases for asylum and other humanitarian protections.

Silky Shah, executive director of the Detention Watch Network, condemned Biden for endangering the lives of migrants for political gain.

Biden’s order “is a result of years of Democrats ceding ground to Republicans on the issue moving everything further to the right,” Shah said on the social media site X. “Mainstream [immigrant rights] groups accepted border restrictions as a tradeoff for legalization & now only the former is on the table.”

In an op-ed for Truthout in March, Setareh Ghandehari, advocacy director at Detention Watch Network, wrote that Biden has repeatedly cosigned a “racist and immoral right-wing border policy agenda.”

“President Biden continues to show he has no reluctance to advocate for cruel and racist policies that will lead to more immigration detention, more family separation and more migrant lives in jeopardy,” she wrote.

On Biden’s inauguration day, the number of migrants in ICE prisons was near 14,000 — a two-decade low, Ghandehari pointed out. That number is now approaching 40,000, and Biden is lobbying Congress for funds to imprison thousands more.

“Politicians are playing political games with people’s lives, and many across the country are fed up with Biden pointing fingers at the other side while rapidly moving to the right, instead of taking real steps to welcome people with dignity and respect,” Ghandehari added.

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