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Hispanic Caucus split between rage and lukewarm reception to Biden's new border plan

The Biden administration’s plan to crack down at the border in exchange for some expanded legal pathways of entry for migrants received a generally tepid response from Hispanic Democrats, though some in the group were incensed that they were sidelined in favor of developing a policy many worry treads too closely to Trump-era immigration efforts. 

The Biden administration announced Thursday it would expand Title 42 limitations that allow them to turn away asylum-seekers, pairing it with a pledge to allow some 30,000 Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Haitians into the U.S. through a separate program.

Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), in her first major statement as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), praised the administration’s expanded legal pathways but expressed disappointment with the Title 42 expansion at the border.

“As a nation of immigrants, we must have a humane, efficient, and professional immigration system that reflects our American values,” Barragán said. 

“The Congressional Hispanic Caucus welcomes the Administration’s efforts to expand legal pathways for refugees and asylum seekers but is disappointed with the expansion of the failed Trump-era Title 42 policy that has denied asylum seekers their rights to due process for far too long.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), a former CHC chair, released his own statement later Friday, issuing a strongly worded condemnation of the administration’s plans that contrasted with the careful balance adopted by Barragán.

“I am deeply disappointed to see the Biden administration extending failed Trump-era immigration policies that exacerbate chaos and irregular migration at the Southern border,” Castro said.

Castro said he “appreciates” the administration’s expanded legal pathway, but panned the transit ban and parole requirements “willfully dismissive of the realities facing asylum seekers.”

“Instead of making concessions to the same reactionaries who have spent decades opposing immigration reform, the Biden administration should work with Congress to develop smart immigration policy that meets our nation’s economic needs, upholds our fundamental values, and addresses the root causes of migration,” said Castro.

And the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) weighed in after a call on the policy with Mayorkas.

CPC Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and CPC Immigration Task Force Chairman Jesús García (D-Ill.) — also a CHC member — put out their own statement, taking a more forceful tone than Barragán, but less combative than Castro.

Jayapal and García called on President Biden to “reconsider this proposal” though they lauded its expanded legal pathways.

“However, the new Department of Homeland Security proposal also includes expanding the use of Title 42, a public health law weaponized by Donald Trump to deny legal rights to asylum seekers, as well as potential regulations that would restrict the legal right to seek asylum. That is unacceptable,” Jayapal and García wrote.

Barragán’s statement came a day after CHC members met with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in the Capitol for what turned into a heated briefing on the new policy. 

At the meeting, two CHC members, Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), grilled Mayorkas, pushing the secretary to say why they weren’t consulted during the planning process of the new policy.

Menendez, in particular, was “pretty lit” as he tore into Mayorkas, according to several people in the room, and Luján “let him have it” over the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) failure to include CHC input in planning.

Menendez went so far as to quote a Biden campaign pledge to Mayorkas, when the then-Democratic nominee ripped then-President Trump over his “safe third country agreements” proposal.

The new Biden immigration proposal mimics the Trump push in that it penalizes migrants who transit away from their current location by making them ineligible to claim asylum.

Representatives for Mayorkas did not respond to a question Friday on why the administration did not consult its allies in Congress.

One CHC member complained the new policy “breathes new life” into Title 42.

“People are upset that a Democratic administration would expand the policy that Stephen Miller put in place under Donald Trump. There are some good things about what’s being proposed: allowing people to apply for asylum if they have a sponsor, and providing work permits. But there’s a big downside to it, which is the expansion of Title 42. Title 42 is supposed to be wound down and this seems to breathe new life into it,” the member said.

But the senators’ ire was not shared by all in the meeting.

While Barragán shared other CHC members’ concerns over elements of the policy, including that it essentially amounts to a thinly veiled transit ban, she said the conversation with Mayorkas was “constructive.”

Other members, including the two senators, who put out a harshly critical statement Thursday alongside Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), were much less generous about the meeting.

Still, Barragán added in her statement that members “made clear that the CHC must be consulted on all policies regarding the border and immigration.”

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), a vice chair of the CHC, said he shared his colleagues’ concerns with the plan but praised Mayorkas as a DHS chief who “has strong empathy and more support than anybody else in that position before him for immigrants.”

Still, Espaillat said the administration and other stakeholders were missing the core issue that’s created the migrant crisis, a “crisis of democracy in the Americas.”

“The real issue here is, what’s happening in the Americas? Why are these people leaving their families behind and coming here? What are the compelling reasons that are forcing women to take their kids and walk thousands of miles, to put their lives in danger to get to America?” Espaillat said.

“Unless that’s addressed, it going to be very difficult. … I understand that’s not going to happen overnight, but we must begin to address those issues and I think we have not.”

The different takes reflect divisions within the CHC, where some members see immigration as the keystone issue for U.S. Hispanics, while others view it as a legacy topic that’s lost political punch to issues like the economy, education and the environment.

And the political reality of border security is felt differently by members who represent border districts, particularly in Texas, which often bear disproportionate costs in times of heightened migration.

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), a top advocate for migrant rights who’s at times butted heads with Democratic leadership over immigration, recognized the different political realities faced by some of his colleagues.

“I do know some people at the border, their communities are bearing a lot of the brunt of this refugee crisis. And so they’re looking for some solutions, so they may be more open to those solutions then others,” Correa told The Hill.

Still, Correa struck at the center of the Biden administration’s plan — an expansion of Title 42 expulsions — noting the border policy’s core precept is defunct.

“[Title] 42 should not even be part of the immigration debate, because it’s a health care issue, not an immigration weapon,” said Correa, alluding to the original stated rationale for Title 42, that it would be used to keep the coronavirus from crossing the southern border.

Other CHC members noted that the administration’s promises to open new pathways for migrants could fail to pan out.

One member noted, for instance, that promises to aggressively expand the refugee program have been made before with paltry results.

“Look at what’s happened with the refugee situation where they propose a number of 125,000 refugees, but accepted in actuality only a low number. So to me, it doesn’t really matter what your number is in principle — what’s your number in practice? So if they’re going to set this number and say 30,000 per month is it, the number that can come in, yeah, but how many are you actually going to allow to come in?” they said. 

Administration officials are already touting the early success of the program, however.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols said on Friday that sign-ups for the program are already in the thousands, just a day after it was announced.

“Thousands of people have already applied and it’s been a day. The application is free. There’s no cost — that comes in contrast to people paying migrant smugglers, polleros, coyotes, you can use whatever term you want, 1000s of dollars for a risky journey with no guarantee of entry into the United States,” Nichols said at a Wilson Center conference previewing Biden’s trip to Mexico City on Sunday.

“I think that the the policies that the president has announced will provide legal pathways for some 30,000 people a month from countries where there’s a significant demand and that will prevent people from putting their lives at risk through a perilous journey,” added Nichols.

Source: The Hill

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