Biden said he needed Congress' help to 'shut down the border.' Now he's doing it anyway. (2024)

WASHINGTON − With Congress in gridlock and his reelection in question, President Joe Biden is leaning on executive powers to curb migration his administration had insisted he did not have.

Biden said he was driven to action by a worldwide migrant crisis that could result in an unlimited number of people trying to enter the country.

"The goodwill of the American people is wearing thin right now," Biden said Tuesday in an address from the East Room of the White House. "Doing nothing is not an option. We have to act."

Biden said he needed Congress' help to 'shut down the border.' Now he's doing it anyway. (1)

Biden issued a directive Tuesday that compels the U.S. to turn away migrants who do not enter the country through legal ports of entry anytime unlawful crossings hit an average of 2,500 people a day in a given week. The temporary measures take effect immediately and will remain in place until such crossings dip below an average of 1,500 people a day.

The Democratic president backed a failed bipartisan measure earlier in the year that would have authorized him to put similar restrictions in place.

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Endorsing it, Biden said: "It’ll also give me, as president, the emergency authority to shut down the border until it could get back under control. If that bill were the law today, I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.”

But with Congress frozen in place, Biden said Tuesday that he would act alone, using the same authority that former President Donald Trump once relied on to restrict immigration to the United States.

"Frankly, I would have preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation, because that's the only way to actually get the kind of system we have now fixed," he said. "But Republicans have left me no choice."

Biden has for months been looking for measures his administration thought would stand up in court. His administration began to soften its stance in recent weeks on what that could look like.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters ahead of the announcement said the change is meant to deter migration to the southern border. In the current fiscal year, U.S. Border Patrol has reported more than 1.5 million encounters and apprehensions.

"This action will help us gain control of our border, restore order to our process," Biden said later. "Thisban will remain in place until the number of people trying to enter illegally is reduced to a level that our system can effectively manage."

Asylum will still be available to migrants who seek it through the established legal pathways, Biden said.

Republican lawmakers reacted to the anticipated announcement by asking why Biden did not take the action earlier. House Speaker Mike Johnson said Sunday that executive action by Biden would be "too little, too late" and accused him of exacerbating the problems at the border with his policies.

“The only reason he’s doing that is because the polls say that it’s the biggest issue in America. Every state’s a border state,” Johnson said on "Fox News Sunday."

The order comes as polling shows immigration is a top issue for voters in the November election and as Biden is tied with or trailing Trump in key states.

In rolling out Biden's new measures Tuesday, the White House criticized congressional Republicans for blocking bipartisan congressional legislation that would have overhauled the immigration code.

Trump used the same legal authority to enact a travel ban on Muslim-majority nations when he was president. Biden reversed it when he took office.

A senior administration officials said the new actions differ from Trump's because they apply only when encounters are unexpectedly high and they apply evenly all migrants who enter the country without permission. There are also narrow humanitarian exceptions for migrants facing acute medical emergencies and extreme threats to their safety, the official said.

Biden visited the border on the same day as Trump in February. He traveled to El Paso, Texas, the previous January.

Drawing a distinction with Trump in his speech Tuesday, Biden said he would not "demonize" immigrants or ban people from the country "because of their religious beliefs."

"I will never refer to immigrants as poisoning the blood of a country," he said.

Biden said he worked closely with outgoing Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on his immigration actions and hopes to continue that cooperation with incoming President Claudia Sheinbaum. He said he spoke to both on the phone this week.

He said his order is not a replacement for congressional action and legislation is still needed to pay for more asylum officers, border patrol agents and drug detection machines.

Biden's order is expected to face legal challenges.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the Democratic negotiator on the Senate border legislation that failed twice in the upper chamber, told reporters Tuesday that Biden's executive order is a "pretty extraordinary exercise of executive power" and that it will probably be overturned in the courts.

"My belief from the beginning has been that you need legislation in order to shut down the border absent a public health emergency, and I think that's probably what the courts will conclude."

At the White House after the president's event, Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., told reporters that while the order would surely wind up in court, Biden's administration had aggressively vetted the measure.

"We were assured that they've thought it through, as to how to pass legal muster," he said.

In a statement, Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., levied heavy criticism on Biden. Padilla said the order would not fix the problems at the border and would lead to migrants with legitimate asylum claims being turned away.

“By reviving Trump’s asylum ban, President Biden has undermined American values and abandoned our nation’s obligations to provide people fleeing persecution, violence, and authoritarianism with an opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S.," he said.

Contributing: Riley Beggin

Biden said he needed Congress' help to 'shut down the border.' Now he's doing it anyway. (2024)
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