The United States will turn away most migrants arriving at its southern border with Mexico, a White House official said on Wednesday, under a policy passed by former President Donald Trump aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
Speaking to reporters, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the policy would remain in place to give the administration of President Joe Biden time to implement more “humane” asylum processing systems.
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“Now is not the time to come,” Psaki said during a news briefing. “The vast majority of people will be turned away.”
Her comments come amid increasing pressure on Biden to reverse some of Trump’s most restrictive and hardline immigration policies. The new US president has already signed several executive actions on immigration since taking office on January 20.
Officials in Texas last week released hundreds of Central American migrant families from custody amid concerns of overcrowding in US facilities after local authorities in Mexico baulked at taking them back.
Biden has left in place a Trump-era, COVID-19 order called Title 42 that allows US authorities to rapidly expel to Mexico migrants caught crossing the border illegally.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, which filed a new lawsuit over the policy on Monday, said it uses a “guise” of public health to undermine legal protections for asylum seekers.
“Our fight for these families continues, until and unless the Biden administration ends this cruel practice once and for all,” Rose said in a statement.
This is not the first time that officials in the Biden administration have stressed that the US will continue to maintain tight control over its southern border.
Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the immediate suspension of agreements with Central American nations that allowed the Trump administration to send asylum seekers back to those countries.
In a statement, Blinken said, however, that the suspension of the agreements with Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala does “not mean that the U.S. border is open”.
“While we are committed to expanding legal pathways for protection and opportunity here and in the region, the United States is a country with borders and laws that must be enforced,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration also faces pressure from Congressional Democrats for its deportation practices.
A group of 12 Democratic lawmakers led by Representative Mondaire Jones of New York sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday criticising recent deportations of Haitian immigrants.
The lawmakers said the removals appeared to go against Biden administration enforcement priorities outlined in a January 20 memo and that it appeared immigration officials were “disparately targeting Black asylum-seekers and immigrants”.