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Biden still faces uphill immigration battle after new policy, Mexico visit

President Joe Biden meets with members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday. Photo courtesy of White House
1 of 4 | President Joe Biden meets with members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday. Photo courtesy of White House | License Photo

Jan. 13 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden turned his focus toward making an impact on the challenges facing the United States on its border with Mexico but failed to satisfy critics on either side of the aisle.

Immigration experts told UPI the challenges are not likely to change over the next two years of Biden's term in office with a presidential election pushing the politics of the issue to the forefront while Congress remains stubbornly on the sidelines.

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Biden met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico this week, saying they and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the need to address the "scourge" of human smuggling.

Obrador thanked Biden for not building "even 1 meter of wall," stating that he is the first president in some time who has not done so but called on Biden to address Congress in an attempt to improve the migration process.

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Ahead of his trip, Biden announced the use of a "parole" program to accept 30,000 immigrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who apply by using a smartphone app rather than trying to cross the border illegally, drawing the ire of Republicans.

The Biden administration said it would also expand the use of Title 42, a Trump-era rule that allows the United States to turn back immigrants while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, creating complaints from Democrats.

Angela Kelly, senior policy adviser with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that while Biden's changes don't do enough, the White House is in a tough spot.

"The Biden administration was handed probably the most challenging set of circumstances that have ever existed at the border," Kelly told UPI. "You have COVID and the end of Title 42. You've got global inflation, and then four failed nation-states in our hemisphere. That is a staggering amount of pressure and change.

"They have done with the tools that they have, probably the best that they could, but it is still inadequate. It is still dangerous in terms of not protecting people who are in fact, vulnerable."

Chris Chmielenski, vice president and deputy director of NumbersUSA, said Biden's latest rule changes appear to be an attempt to lower the number of people at the border, not discourage them from coming in the first place.

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"You have this visual of massive caravans waiting on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border to enter into the United States," Chmielenski told UPI. "My concern is that the Biden administration is mostly looking to simply get rid of those optics and not trying to alleviate the fact that there is actually a border crisis.

"They are trying to streamline the process for them to enter the United States rather than trying to prevent them from coming in the first place. We would like to see the administration take stronger actions in preventing them from coming in the first place."

Chmielenski said former President Donald Trump had some leverage on Obrador because the United States was retooling the North American Free Trade Agreement while dealing with the border. He said Biden, however, has no such sway with Mexico and will have to be "more creative" to get cooperation.

He said the parole program Biden is using to allow immigrants to apply goes well beyond the scope of the powers afforded by Congress.

"It's supposed to be done on a case-by-case basis," Chmielenski said. "It's at the discretion of the secretary of homeland security. I believe that the Biden administration has abused the power that's been granted to them by Congress. They've used it over the last two years for hundreds of thousands of people."

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Kelly said it was a "wise decision" for the Biden administration to take advantage of the program, although it is neither a long-term nor permanent solution to dealing with numbers at the border.

"It makes a lot of sense because we want people to come with visas, not with smugglers," Kelly said. "But unfortunately, you can't supplant the need for a functional asylum system with a parole program.

"You're leaving some asylum seekers out in the cold. I think that's some of the criticism that you've heard from people on the more progressive side."

Kelly said what is needed is a congressional solution -- a long-awaited revamping of U.S. immigration laws to address today's challenges to take out the criminal element while meeting future workforce needs.

However, a divided Congress and an upcoming presidential election make it unlikely that is coming soon. That is frustrating news for Rodolfo Rosales Jr., the Texas state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the country.

"The government hasn't answered [immigration] by law since Ronald Reagan," Rosales said. "We've given them several proposals. We've talked about visa set-up programs where people could come in and get a work visa.

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"We've talked about long-term goals in terms of citizenship for those that are already here. We've given them several solutions and Congress has failed, both Democrats and Republicans. They have failed to address this in any meaningful way."

Rosales said he makes trips to the border, where he talks to those immigrants reaching the United States and the U.S. residents who feel the effects of the influx on a regular basis. He said the thing that is missing in all the policy talk is that they are dealing with human beings where politics seem to always get in the way.

"These are human beings and this needs to be addressed as a humanitarian crisis," Rosales said. "If you don't come up with comprehensive immigration reform, then those people [criminals] are always going to be in charge. You can't have it both ways.

"You can't just turn a blind eye and say, 'Oh, don't come into our country.' You can't say we're not going to put any money into it when they are already here."

Rosales said it will take more than border walls and patrols to solve the crisis because there is so much more to it -- and different people coming to the border.

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"You have to look at economic factors," Rosales said. "You no longer have Mexican immigrants coming to work. You have people coming in from Central America and South America. They're coming from Guatemala and Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba, you name it.

"You can't treat them like monsters and criminals, and not look at them for what they really are as human beings."

Kelly agreed, saying it will take a whole-of-government approach because blocking the border will also cause people to spill along the border's edge and such dams will always burst.

"The U.S. needs to do its fair share, but we're not going to solve the migration challenges alone," Kelly said. "Mexico is a key partner and we have to engage with them and others in a way that both is fair to them and fair to the people who are seeking protection."

Chmielenski said border protection has to be a key element in that and can't be a side issue. Rosales said politics gets in the way of any border talk that leaves debaters demonized.

"Let me make one thing perfectly clear. No person in LULAC, or for that matter in the Hispanic community, wants an open border," Rosales said. "We don't want children abused or sex slaves. We are not for that and I really resent the connotation that we somehow don't want border security.

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"We want it but done in a humane way. With the technology we have nowadays, we don't need hard-core barriers. We need is monitoring and technological modernization at the border."

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