In a message intended to prevent a rush to the southwestern border, the incoming Biden administration announced Tuesday that it would not immediately reverse restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump that have effectively halted asylum and left thousands of migrants stranded outside the United States.
The Trump administration progressively tightened restrictions on asylum, effectively sealing the border to asylum-seekers by forcing them to wait in Mexico for the duration of their immigration hearings and disqualifying people who did not first seek protection in a country they passed en route to the United States.
During his campaign, President-elect Joe Biden promised to swiftly reverse those and other Trump administration border policies. But on Tuesday, Biden and his top advisers seemed to walk back those pledges.
At an event in Wilmington, Delaware, the president-elect told reporters that he would enact a more “humane policy” at the borders but that his administration would need “probably the next six months” to rebuild a system to process migrants and secure funding for immigration judges.
Changing Trump’s policies immediately, he warned, would be “the last thing we need” because it might lead to having “2 million people on our border.”
“It will get done and it will get done quickly but it’s not going to be able to be done on Day 1,” Biden added.
Immigrant advocates and human rights groups have called on Biden to swiftly roll back immigration measures that have barred most people from entering the United States. On Tuesday, they expressed openness to waiting for policy changes — but not for too long.
“Certainly the Biden administration is going to need a little time to undo all the damage and chaos that has been inflicted on the immigration and asylum systems, but the United States does not need six months in order to uphold its legal obligations under U.S. refugee law and treaties,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First.
In their first detailed briefing with reporters on the president-elect’s immigration and border policies, aides to Biden said the new administration would eventually resume processing of asylum-seekers at ports of entry along the border. But they said that initially only a limited number of migrants would be allowed to have their claims heard.