The Biden administration is eyeing changes to asylum policy that would open up new "legal pathways" for immigrants, even as an unprecedented border surge looms that many fear will break the system.
The administration is reportedly planning to curtail asylum access at the southern border while expanding opportunities for Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans to apply for "parole" in their home countries.
The program, which Mayorkas initially introduced for a group of 24,000 Venezuelans earlier this year, is part of the administration's preparations for the end of the Trump-era Title 42 border policy, which was set to expire Wednesday before the Supreme Court issued a stay.
The policy has enabled the rapid expulsion of immigrants without a chance to plead asylum. Its anticipated recission has already brought a surge, with 20,000 immigrants waiting to pour into El Paso, Texas.
The administration's post-Title 42 plans would reportedly stiffen asylum requirements at the border, in part by reviving a Trump-era "transit ban" that requires immigrants to prove they sought refuge in another country first. The rumored change has angered some open borders advocates.
"They are playing dangerously with the machinery of the Trump administration. That policy was functionally an elimination of access to asylum at the southern border for most asylum-seekers,” Greg Chen, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said.
Many illegal immigrants seeking economic opportunity eventually settle in the U.S. by making pretextual claims of persecution, something Trump sought to curtail by making asylum harder to get.
Biden's embattled Department of Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas touted his "legal pathways" approach as a smoother, "safer," and more humane way of handling asylum seekers.
"We can vet and screen them beforehand, assess their eligibility, and then have them travel safely to the United States to ports of entry in the interior byplane, which is what we've seen in a tremendously successful program for Venezuelans," he told El Paso Matters.
Mayorkas has already drawn criticism for making extraordinary use of parole powers, which are meant to be used narrowly, to admit large numbers of illegal immigrants into the country.
Republicans have called on Mayorkas to resign, but he has refused, and the White House has stood by him, dismissing the threats as a "stunt."
Mayorkas has long refused to take ownership of the crisis, claiming the border is "secure" and that the crisis is hemispheric in scope -- in other words, not Biden's fault. But Mayorkas continues to get heat from Border Patrol agents who are frustrated with his anti-enforcement agenda.
During a visit to El Paso last week, agents grilled Mayorkas for claiming the border is "secure."
"They asked him why he's saying that the border is secure when we have no agents in the field," an agent told the Washington Examiner. "He had the nerve to respond that he never said the border was secure."