Biden imposes strict restrictions on asylum at southern US border

New measures all but deny the right to claim asylum for people who cross the US southern border without authorisation.

US southern border
Members of the Texas National Guard stand near a razor wire fence used to prevent migrants from crossing into the United States from Mexico along the Rio Bravo river, January 22, 2024 [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]

Washington, DC – United States President Joe Biden has imposed new restrictions that would bar most migrants who cross the US southern border without authorisation from seeking asylum in the country.

The White House announced the new measures on Tuesday, saying that the US “must secure” its borders.

“These actions will be in effect when high levels of encounters at the Southern Border exceed our ability to deliver timely consequences, as is the case today,” the White House said in a statement.

“They will make it easier for immigration officers to remove those without a lawful basis to remain and reduce the burden on our Border Patrol agents.”

The measure will prevent any migrant who crosses the southern border without authorisation from applying for asylum if the average number of unauthorised daily crossings passes 2,500.

CBS News reported last month that the average number of unauthorised daily crossings reported by the US Border Patrol was 3,700.

The new regulations will come into effect early on Wednesday and remain in place until the number of unauthorised crossings drops below a daily average of 1,500 for a week. The restrictions would be reimposed if the numbers increase again.

The decree makes exceptions for unaccompanied minors and people determined to be victims of human trafficking.

While Biden has previously imposed restrictions on asylum seeking, Tuesday’s measures are the most sweeping curbs that he has placed on migration at the southern border.

The announcement comes amid Biden’s campaign for the presidential election in November, when he will face off against his predecessor and Republican rival Donald Trump.


Hannah Flamm, policy counsel at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), said the decree will “effectively close” the border to asylum seekers.

“Before this rule, there were innumerable obstacles to seeking asylum that the Biden administration has exacerbated and compounded in the last weeks and months. But there was the ability to do it,” Flamm told Al Jazeera.

“With this rule, once the 2,500-person encounter per day average cap is hit, the default is you do not have the chance to seek asylum.”

Similar approach to Trump

Immigration and civil rights groups were quick to slam the restrictions, calling it an “asylum ban” akin to Trump’s policies when he was in office.

“The Biden administration just announced an executive order that will severely restrict people’s legal right to seek asylum, putting tens of thousands of lives at risk,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a social media post on Tuesday.

“This action takes the same approach as the Trump administration’s asylum ban. We will be challenging this order in court.”

US law allows anyone on American soil to apply for asylum by alleging persecution at home. Federal officials and immigration courts would then have to assess the claim, a lengthy process that could take years to be resolved.

But the White House cited sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which grant the president powers over regulating migration, as the legal basis for the restriction.

Trump had used the same legislation to impose his so-called “Muslim ban” in 2017, when he barred citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

However, Biden tried to draw a distinction between himself and Trump when announcing the executive order on Wednesday.

“I will never demonise immigrants,” Biden told reporters. “I will never refer to immigrants as poisoning the blood of our country. And further, I’ll never separate children from their families at the border. I will not ban people from this country because of their religious beliefs.”

He also slammed Republicans for not working with the White House to address the immigration issue and increase resources for border security.

Still, many lawmakers from Biden’s own Democratic Party have criticised the measure.

“This attempt to shut down the border to asylum seekers uses the same section of US immigration laws that convicted felon Donald Trump used to implement the Muslim Ban and in attempts to cut off all access to asylum,” Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said in a statement.

“While there are some differences from Trump’s actions, the reality is that this utilizes the same failed enforcement-only approach, penalizes asylum seekers, and furthers a false narrative that these actions will ‘fix’ the border.”

‘Moral and political failure’

Immigration is a hot-button topic in US politics, especially in an election year. The US southern border has seen a record level of new arrivals in the past years.

Republicans often accuse Biden of opening the US border to unauthorised migrants and allowing criminals and illicit drugs into the country. Trump in particular has made anti-immigration rhetoric a central point of his campaign.

And some Republican governors in southern US states have chartered buses and planes to transport migrants to northern, mostly Democratic cities.

Flamm, of IRAP, said the narrative that Biden is pushing open-border policies is unfounded.

“Biden is incredibly tough on the border,” she said. “And I think it is a moral and political failure for this administration not to stake out a position that protects the rights of immigrants and people seeking safety in the United States.”

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Biden has taken executive action in the absence of legislation to try to “help alleviate” some of the pressure caused by border crossings.

“In this hemisphere alone, we’ve seen more people on the move since World War II,” Kirby told Al Jazeera in a TV interview.

“We are working very hard with our partners in the region, including and principally with Mexico, to do what we can to help stem the reasons for that migration, try to get at the root causes for that.”

Source: Al Jazeera