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Biden under fire from conservatives and progressives over response to border crossings

A food bank drops of food, blankets and supplies to asylum-seeking migrants living unsheltered after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 22, 2022.
Jim Urquhart for NPR
A food bank drops of food, blankets and supplies to asylum-seeking migrants living unsheltered after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 22, 2022.

Just days after a coalition of conservative states, led by Texas, sued the Biden administration over a proposed immigration parole program, the president is now under fire from progressive groups as he considers restarting a separate, controversial policy.

Reports surfaced Friday the administration is considering restarting a controversial policy to fast-track credible fear interviews for asylum seekers. The credible fear interview is among the first steps in the asylum process and helps immigration officers determine if the asylum seeker has a legitimate fear of persecution or other harm in their home country. The program is a Trump-era policy that has been widely criticized as a means to skirt due process for immigrants and rapidly remove them. Reuters reported the interviews will be conducted remotely and an asylum seeker could be deported rapidly if they fail to establish a credible fear.

The program is reportedly part of the White House’s efforts to slow the number of crossings at the border, which continue to reach record levels as Biden enters his third year in office.

Advocates argue the proposal violates international law and does nothing to curb the number of people seeking refuge in the United States.

“President Biden rebuked rushed asylum processing two years ago in [an executive order], only to now be poised to bring back this cruel and draconian policy,” Mary Meg McCarthy, the executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, said in a statement. “The president promised hope and fairness to asylum seekers, not a Groundhog Day where we continually relive the prior administration.”

Juanita Cabrera Lopez, the executive director of the International Mayan League, said the expedited interviews are likely to affect indigenous asylum seekers who speak native languages. Asylum seekers are not guaranteed legal representation and most must navigate the complicated system with little aid. That’s made even more difficult during a rushed process, Cabrera Lopez said.

“For Indigenous peoples and our brothers and sisters who do not speak a dominant language such as English or Spanish, an expedited asylum screening is likely a death sentence,” she said. “The continuation of inhumane policies in violation of U.S. domestic and international law obligations continue to cause irreparable harm to asylum seekers and do not deter our people from migrating.”

While Biden is being slammed on that front, his administration was slapped with its latest lawsuit from a bloc of conservative states, led by Texas and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

As part of the multi-tiered plan announced earlier this month, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said 30,000 people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti will be paroled into the country under current immigration laws as they seek relief in the United States. The process allows someone who would otherwise not be allowed to temporarily stay in the United States, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

On Thursday Paxton filed a lawsuit alleging the proposal “unlawfully creates a de facto pathway to citizenship.” That’s despite Mayorkas’ assertion that the migrants in the parole program will need to apply in their home countries, pass background and security checks and require sponsors in the United States that can offer financial support.

Paxton argued that the plaintiff states will face irreparable harms under the program and that the Biden administration skirted the required rulemaking procedures. The other states that joined the lawsuit include: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming

“The Department did not engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act, substituting instead its unilateral judgment to bring into the United States hundreds of thousands of aliens who otherwise have no other authority to enter,” the lawsuit states. Texas has had success in in previous lawsuits when it raised the APA argument, including when it filed suit against former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, program.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a national resettlement agency, said that while the organization has concerns about some of Biden’s policies, including keeping in place the controversial Title 42 policy implemented by the Trump Administration, the latest lawsuit is just a blatant attempt to stall any meaningful progress on immigration.

“The aim seems quite transparently to preserve the most harmful policies of the Trump immigration agenda while blocking or delaying any new initiatives by the Biden administration to create a more orderly system,” she said. “Anyone making the case that this program is not for urgent humanitarian needs has no grasp on the gruesome reality in Haiti and Venezuela, the latter of which remains the largest refugee crisis in the world apart from Ukraine.”

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom