The administration of US President Joe Biden will resume deporting Venezuelan migrants, and add sections to the southern border wall, carrying forward a signature policy of former President Donald Trump.
Washington’s announcement came on Thursday, two weeks after Biden extended temporary legal status to more than 470,000 Venezuelans living in the United States, saying that “the conditions in their home country prevent their safe return”.
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The Venezuelan migrants were the largest single group encountered at the US-Mexico border last month.
The US government is under political pressure to stem the flow of people.
For more than a year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been busing migrants from the southern US border to places like New York, Washington and Chicago, prompting angry complaints from Democratic officials in those cities.
One of Biden’s first actions after taking office in January 2021 was to issue a proclamation pledging that “no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall” as well as a review of all resources that had already been committed.
The administration said Thursday’s action did not deviate from Biden’s proclamation because money that was allocated during Trump’s term in 2019 had to be spent now.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement that there was “no new Administration policy with respect to border walls. From day one, this Administration has made clear that a border wall is not the answer”.
Mayorkas said the construction project was appropriated during the prior administration and the law requires the government to use the funds, with an announcement made earlier in the year.
“We have repeatedly asked Congress to rescind this money but it has not done so and we are compelled to follow the law,” he said.
Trump, however, was quick to claim victory and demand an apology.
“As I have stated often, over thousands of years, there are only two things that have consistently worked, wheels, and walls!” Trump wrote on social media. “Will Joe Biden apologise to me and America for taking so long to get moving …”
Immigration a political issue
Immigration will likely be a campaign theme in the US presidential race with a majority of Americans – 54 percent – agreeing with the statement that “immigration is making life harder for native-born Americans”, a September Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
About 73 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of Democrats surveyed agreed with that statement.
The Biden administration’s decision to move forward with the border barriers will open the president to criticism from his left-leaning base, including immigration advocates and environmentalists opposed to more construction.
In a notice published in the Federal Register on Thursday, Biden’s Department of Homeland Security said it needed to waive several laws, regulations and other legal requirements to construct barriers in Starr County, Texas.
The county is in Rio Grande Valley Sector where Border Patrol agents have encountered more than 245,000 people entering the US this fiscal year, Mayorkas said in the Federal Register post.
“There is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries,” he said.
About 11 million immigrants are in the US without legal documentation, says the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. Many have lived and worked in the country for years or decades.
Biden tried early in his tenure to get a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in Congress, but Republican opposition thwarted progress.