WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) - Shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, refugees began arriving at the border between Mexico and the United States. About 1,000 Ukrainians flew on tourist visas to Tijuana every day, desperate to get to U.S. territory.
San Diego, the busiest border crossing of the country, was overwhelmed by the volume. In Tijuana thousands of Ukrainians spent the night in a local gym, hoping to get a chance at crossing into the U.S.
The administration responded by announcing that it would accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians over a two-year period if they had applied online, had financial backing and entered via an airport. At the same moment, border officials sent back Ukrainians arriving on foot to the U.S.
The Biden Administration has found these policies so effective, that they have become the cornerstone of a new border policy that will be implemented in earnest on Thursday. This is because pandemic restrictions that allowed U.S. officials quickly to turn away illegal migrants are ending.
The results will be a test to President Joe Biden who is running for re-election. As the border comes back into political focus, and Republicans try to paint him as a softie on security.
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Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said to reporters that 'our model is to create lawful paths and then to impose the consequences provided by law on those who do not use these lawful paths'.
Biden is moving away from his more liberal immigration policies of the first year he served as president to a new approach that includes increased enforcement, expanded legal pathways, and diplomacy.
Leftists have criticized the policies as being too similar to those of former president Donald Trump. Some wonder if anything Biden says will stop the flow along the southern border of migrants, and if the new policies are able to survive the expected legal challenges as well as a lack in resources.
Some immigration experts believe it could be a balanced solution that leads to fewer illegal border crossings, while still offering a safe haven for those who are fleeing persecution.
Andrew Selee is the president of Migration Policy Institute, an immigration think tank that is non-partisan.
This account is based on part on interviews conducted with over a dozen former and current administration officials, who spoke under condition of anonymity about internal deliberations.
In his first month as president, Biden took a number of executive actions that aimed to reverse Trump's policies. He supported legislation that would provide citizenship to millions of people living in the United States illegally. He filled his administration with immigrants who were eager to fight back against Trump's anti-immigrant policy.
Alarms were raised almost instantly when, in March 2021, nearly 19000 children travelling alone at the border were stopped. Senior officials met two times weekly to strategize and move children from overcrowded Border Patrol shelters to emergency shelters such as convention centers in California or military bases in Texas.
The number of unaccompanied minors has decreased, but a daily dashboard monitored by officials shows that the overall arrivals, particularly families, are continuing to increase.
The majority of people who cross the border illegally to enter the United States are fleeing poverty or persecution in their own countries. Most of the people who come to the U.S. border illegally are fleeing persecution or poverty in their home countries. They have asked for asylum, and they've been granted entry into the U.S. while they wait on their cases. The immigration court system is overburdened and the process can be lengthy. This has led to an increase in the number of people coming to the border to try to enter the U.S.
The legal path is narrow, and many do not meet the standards.
Many officials who had close ties with immigration advocacy groups left the administration by the time Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. They were frustrated that their views didn't gain more traction, and felt that Biden wasn't as focused on the U.S. Mexico border as he is on other issues. This left officials who held more centrist viewpoints in charge.
Mayorkas, and others, were concerned that Ukrainians might be in danger on their journeys. Their circuitous route into the U.S. further strained border resources. This led to the "Uniting for Ukraine" policy. Under this, 128,000 people were allowed to enter the U.S. and tens thousands more have been approved to follow. The number of Ukrainians who came on foot virtually stopped.
Mayorkas stated that they had built the house at an incredible pace and it was a success.
The administration shifted its attention to people who were illegally crossing the border and could not easily be returned to their countries. Venezuelans were the second largest nationality on the border, after Mexicans. In October 2022 they will be the second group to apply the policy. They would return 24,000 people to Mexico if they crossed the border illegally by foot. The U.S. will take 24000 if they come by air with sponsors.
Fox News broadcast live reports on hundreds of migrants waiting under the banner 'Biden’s Border Crisis'.
Republican-led state had sued in order to maintain the COVID-19 limitations. Biden officials waited to see if the bipartisan immigration bill that Congress passed would actually become law. It didn't.
In January, Biden announced that the policy was being expanded to include people from Cuba and Haiti, as well as Nicaragua. The number of people allowed into the country increased: 30,000 for each nationality, as long as the person flew in and passed background checks, as well as had sponsors. Mexico agreed to return the same number of illegal border crossers from these four countries.
Biden announced the new policy by saying, "We can't prevent people from traveling here but we can insist that they do so in a legal and orderly manner."
The administration reported that Cubans were only 3%, Haitians accounted for 4%, Nicaraguans 5%, and Venezuelans 3%, down from 40% of illegal crossings.
The U.S. declared COVID-19 to be over and restrictions that allowed U.S. officials turn away migrants 2.8 million time since March 2020 will cease this week.
The Biden Administration has strengthened its flagship policy by taking other steps to tighten up at the border, and open other routes for migrants.
The administration announced last week that it would accept 100,000 people from Guatemala and Honduras who are coming to the United States to be reunited their families.
Border officials are speeding up asylum applications to expedite the expulsion of those who do not qualify. It's also finalizing a rule -- similar in concept to a Trump Policy that was blocked by the court -- which will make it extremely difficult for anyone to obtain asylum if they pass through Mexico to reach the U.S. Border.
In the meantime, the number Venezuelans crossing illegally the border has risen again. The administration is waiting to see if it's just a temporary glitch related to the ending of COVID-19.
Mayorkas acknowledged these concerns last week during a visit to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. He said that nothing can replace congressional action.
Mayorkas stated that 'we have a plan and we are executing this plan'. Fundamentally, however, our work is confined to a broken immigration process that has desperately needed reform for decades.