Biden order shutting the border to migrants seeking asylum draws mixed reviews in Arizona

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, speaks with reporters at the White House on June 4, 2024, after President Joe Biden’s announcement on asylum policy. (Photo by Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Some Arizona Democrats praised President Joe Biden’s order Tuesday closing the border to asylum-seekers, embracing his remarkable shift toward a Donald Trump-era policy despite long-held qualms.

“I think President Biden really does want to find a solution to fix this problem,” said Manuel Ruiz, chairman of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, who stood with Biden at the White House as the president announced the new policy. “Immigration has been an issue that everybody has kicked down the road since, God rest his soul, Sen. (John) McCain and Ted Kennedy.”

McCain, a Republican who represented Arizona in the Senate for over three decades, worked with Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, for years on a package that would shore up border security, expand work visas and provide legal residency and eventual citizenship for millions.

Under Biden’s policy, the border will close to asylum-seekers whenever the average number of illegal crossings over the previous week hits 2,500 per day. The border will reopen only when that average dips to 1,500, which it hasn’t since mid-2020.

Backlash was fierce from many in the president’s own party. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus called it “deeply concerning” because it will make it harder for people fleeing violence or famine to seek refuge to which they’re entitled under U.S. law.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat running for the Senate, distanced himself from the caucus’s stance, calling Biden’s move a “step in the right direction.”

“If the United States doesn’t secure our border, there is no limit to the number of people who may try to come here,” Biden said.

In a nod to his election year vulnerability on the issue, he added that public patience with high levels of unlawful migration is “wearing thin….Doing nothing is not an option.”

Customs and Border Protection reported more than 36,000 migrant encounters in April just in Arizona’s Tucson and Yuma sectors. That’s halfway to the 2,500 limit Biden placed across the entire border, which includes nine CBP sectors across California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

“There’s a huge backlog right now with cases and people that come into the country,” said Santa Cruz County’s Ruiz, citing instances of asylum-seekers waiting nine years to be processed. “That’s not fair to this country, and that’s not fair to them.”

Manuel Ruiz, chairman of the board of supervisors in Santa Cruz County, speaks with Cronkite News at the White House on June 4, 2024, after President Joe Biden’s announcement on asylum policy. (Photo by Cronkite News)

Manuel Ruiz, chairman of the board of supervisors in Santa Cruz County, speaks with Cronkite News at the White House on June 4, 2024, after President Joe Biden’s announcement on asylum policy. (Photo by Cronkite News)

Republicans denounced Biden’s move.

Rep. Juan Ciscomani of Tucson called it “too little too late.” Like other Republicans, he asserted that Biden’s own neglect of border security had pushed illegal migration to crisis levels.

Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Rep. Greg Stanton of Phoenix were among the Democratic officials from around the country who flanked Biden for his announcement in the grand East Room, along with the governors of New Mexico and New York.

Border Patrol and nonprofit groups “are often overwhelmed by daily migrant crossings,” Kelly said in a statement issued by his office, and Biden’s order will relieve the burden. “But make no mistake—this is only necessary because Congress has failed to do its duty to help fix the border.”

He noted that Senate Republicans torpedoed a tough bill earlier this year and again last month that would have beefed up border security.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent, crafted that bill with Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, a Republican. When Democratic leaders put it to another vote in May, both ended up voting against their own bill, reflecting the lack of traction it had received.

Sinema called it a “show vote” intended to embarrass Republicans and “yet another cynical political game” instead of the collaboration that Congress really needs to break the logjam.

“The reason why we are here is because we couldn’t reach bipartisan agreement,” Stanton told reporters Tuesday at the White House after the president’s announcement. “The Senate bill would’ve been the appropriate way of handling this issue.”

Biden promised during the 2020 campaign to revive traditional U.S. asylum policies and undo restrictions imposed – or attempted – by Trump.

Under Biden’s executive order, migrants will only be allowed to seek asylum at ports of entry and with a pre-scheduled appointment – ending a longstanding policy by which migrants can request asylum from U.S. authorities no matter where or how they entered the country.

The ACLU vowed to challenge Biden’s policy in court, calling an asylum ban no less illegal now than it was under Trump.

Biden called on Congress to provide funds to expand the Border Patrol, hire more immigration judges and asylum officers, and upgrade screening technology at the southern border.

“The goal is to deliver decisions on asylum as quickly as possible,” he said. “The quicker decision means that a migrant is less likely to pay a criminal smuggler.”

CBP hiring shortages have been chronic. Stanton and Ciscomani introduced a bill in April to address the problem, though it has stalled.

“With morale, recruitment and retention at an all-time low for CBP, it’s crucial that we send a message to Border Patrol that we have their backs,” Ciscomani said at the time.

Benjamin Adelberg(he/him/his)
News Digital Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Benjamin Adelberg expects to graduate in August 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. He is a multimedia journalist interested in transportation and supporting underserved communities. Adelberg has worked for Arizona State University’s School of Music, Dance and Theatre since 2023 supporting the dance program and has also worked in communications for small and large companies, including A New Leaf in Mesa and U-Haul International in Phoenix.