President Joe Biden expressed unequivocal support for refugees fleeing Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine in Warsaw, Poland. Back home, his administration announced its toughest migrant policy yet, aimed at turning away people fleeing persecution and economic ruin in their home countries.
Biden delivered a stirring message on Tuesday from behind a podium adorned with the iconic US presidential seal and in front of a set of American, Ukrainian, and Polish flags: America would always stand with Ukraine on the side of democracy and freedom.
Taking care of the millions of Ukrainians whose homes, families, and livelihoods have been destroyed in the last year, Biden said in remarks ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Take a look at what you’ve accomplished thus far. More than 1.5 million refugees from the war are being housed in Poland. “God bless you,” Biden said to the audience gathered at the Royal Castle. “Poland’s generosity is extraordinary, as is your willingness to open your hearts and homes.”
Back home, that gesture of gratitude to the Polish people struck a chord.
The Homeland Security and Justice Departments announced the administration’s most stringent policy yet on Tuesday afternoon, aimed at reducing the number of migrants seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border. The newly proposed rule, which would go into effect in May and is reminiscent of a contentious policy implemented by Donald Trump’s administration, largely prohibits migrants who travelled through other countries on their way to the US southern border from seeking asylum in the US.
It is a significant departure from long-standing protocol, which allows migrants to seek asylum regardless of how they arrived in the United States.
While the two populations are distinct, the contrast between Biden’s own words aimed at refugees in Europe and his administration’s newly announced policy on the US border did not go unnoticed by immigration and human rights advocates, as well as Democratic lawmakers, some of whom were quick to express their dismay.
One senior Democratic aide, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, called the situation a “real contradiction.”
“You can see the president emphasising how many refugees Poland has accepted,” the aide said. “On the same day, there’s a rollout to actively reduce the number of people who can even access our asylum system.”
In their defence of the rule, administration officials have cited new programmes that allow certain migrants to apply to come to the US and emphasised efforts to expand access to legal pathways. The administration has also argued that the measure is part of a larger effort to restore order to an immigration system that has been severely strained, as well as to address migrants with valid asylum claims, which are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Nonetheless, the announcement served as another reminder of how the situation at the US border has proven to be one of the most difficult political issues for the Biden administration. For the first half of President Barack Obama’s first term, Biden and his top advisers struggled with Title 42, a Trump-era border restriction that the administration has both publicly criticised and relied on to stem the flow of migrants arriving at the US border. The policy is being challenged in court.
With that policy set to expire in May, the White House’s urgency in finding and enforcing other measures to limit the thousands of migrants arriving at the US border has only grown, especially as Republican lawmakers have been eager to portray Biden as weak on border enforcement.
However, the administration’s patchwork of policies in recent weeks has put the president at odds with his own allies.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had previously expressed frustration with the administration when officials previewed the rule last month, saying they were caught off guard by the new border policies and disappointed by the White House’s lack of direct engagement.
Last week, the administration attempted to correct course in private meetings with lawmakers about the upcoming release of the new asylum rule. According to a source familiar with the meeting, Democratic Hispanic senators maintained their strong opposition and expressed their ongoing concerns in a closed-door meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey was present. The senator, who had previously written to the president to express his concerns, condemned the proposed asylum rule in a joint statement with Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, and Alex Padilla of California on Tuesday.
“We are deeply disappointed that the administration has chosen to move forward with publishing this proposed rule, which only perpetuates the harmful myth that asylum seekers are a threat to this nation. In reality, they are pursuing a legal path in the United States,” according to the statement.
“We have an obligation under domestic and international law to protect vulnerable migrants and should not leave vulnerable migrants stranded in countries that are unable to protect them,” it continued.
A Homeland Security spokesperson, Luis Miranda, said in a statement that the proposal “is part of a first-of-its-kind plan that expands legal pathways and has already reduced illegal immigration, all while allowing thousands of individuals to lawfully enter the United States without putting their lives in the hands of smugglers.”
Nonetheless, immigrant advocates and former Biden officials have slammed the move, describing it as a shift away from Biden’s pledge to restore asylum and towards Trump-era policies. Biden has long promised to take a humane approach to the border situation, a promise that some critics believe the current White House may be breaking by abandoning some of their restrictive border policies.
“This asylum ban is, at its core, Trump’s asylum ban under a different name,” Anu Joshi, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Political Advocacy Department, said in a statement.