WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s effort to chart a different course on immigration policy continues on Monday through a virtual meeting with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the new administration navigates that thorny political issue.
Biden has started to unwind several of former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies, and he’s promised better relations with Mexico.
But Biden faces pressure from both the left and the right.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., last week criticized the reopening of a shelter to house unaccompanied teenagers crossing the border from Mexico.
“This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay – no matter the administration or party,” she tweeted.
In remarks at a gathering of conservative activists on Sunday, Trump urged Republicans to block Biden’s sweeping immigration legislation which includes a path to citizenship for roughly 11 million migrants living without legal status in the USA.
“Border security is just one of the many issues on which the new administration has already betrayed the American people,” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
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López Obrador has his own proposal. He’s expected to talk to Biden about a “Bracero”-style labor program that would allow Mexicans to temporarily live in the United States. He’ll argue that the U.S. economy needs Mexico’s young and strong workers to boost its aging workforce.
Upon taking office, Biden halted construction on the wall along the U.S.-Mexican border that Trump initiated, falsely claiming that Mexico would pay for it.
Biden also established a task force to reunify children separated from their parents or guardians at the border under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy and placed a 100-day halt on most deportations, not at the U.S. border but from within the country’s interior. A Texas federal judge temporarily struck down Biden’s deportation moratorium, allowing the deportations to continue.
But while the administration is taking a “new approach” to regional migration, multiple White House officials have urged those seeking to cross the border to be patient.
“To anyone thinking about taking that journey, our message is: Don’t do it,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said during a virtual tour of the Texas and Mexico border Friday. “President Biden is committed to reforming our immigration system and ensuring safe, orderly and humane processing at our border. Those things will take time.”
The administration continues to turn away most migrants at the border due to concerns over the coronavirus, essentially keeping in place a Trump policy that quickly turned back nearly all asylum-seekers.
The administration has also defended the reopening of a facility in Texas to house unaccompanied migrant teens. Critics have asked how that housing squares with Biden’s previous charge that Trump was putting “kids in cages.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said the facility is needed to meet the social distancing requirements of COVID and that housing the teens was preferable to turning them back at the border or connecting them with U.S. sponsors before the sponsors could be vetted.
“This is a difficult choice but that’s one that we felt was the right one, the most humane one,” Psaki told “Fox News Sunday.”
When Biden spoke by phone with López Obrador a few days after taking office, he outlined the changes he planned to make, including addressing the root causes of migration.
Blinken said Friday the United States will work with Central American countries “to address the heartbreaking reasons why people are risking their lives and safety to make it into the United States at any cost.
“It’s dangerous for them,” he said, “and it goes against our laws.”
Contributing: Associated Press.