Vulnerable Democrats warn Biden about reopening asylum

Apr 1, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: Apr 2, 2022, 5:52 am

PHOENIX (AP) — The Biden administration’s decision to end sweeping asylum limits at the border this May satisfied demands by prominent Democrats eagerly awaiting the end of a program created by Donald Trump in the name of public health.

But it creates thorny political challenges for border-region Democrats who face the likely prospect of an increase in migrants who have for two years been denied the chance to seek asylum in the United States.

In unusually harsh critiques of a president from their own party, some of the congressional Democrats with the toughest reelection prospects are warning that the administration is woefully unprepared to handle the situation. Previous rises in migration have strained law enforcement agencies and nonprofits on the border trying to provide security and shelter.

“This is a crisis, and in my estimation, because of a lack of planning from the administration, it’s about to get worse,” said Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona.

Kelly and fellow Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema met Wednesday with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to press their case for the administration to better plan and coordinate a response. Last week, they wrote to President Joe Biden urging him to delay ending the pandemic rules until his administration is “completely ready to execute and coordinate a comprehensive plan that ensures a secure, orderly, and humane process at the border.”

Sinema and Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn sent a similar letter to Mayorkas on Thursday. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, another top target for Republicans, were critical of the decision Friday.

Migrants have been expelled from the U.S. more than 1.7 million times under public health powers invoked in March 2020 that are designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Biden administration announced plans Friday to end Title 42 authority — named for a 1944 public health law — by May 23. Near the height of the omicron variant in late January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had extended the order to this week.

The announcement comes after mounting pressure from many prominent Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, to end a Trump-era program they cast as an excuse to wriggle out of obligations under U.S. law and international treaty to protect anyone fleeing persecution.

Kelly, Sinema and other skeptical Democrats say the emergency powers must go away eventually, but they say the federal government has failed to develop and share plans to minimize the impact on communities near the border and the local religious and nonprofit groups that help migrants there.

“I’ve worked really hard to make it very clear to them that this situation is unacceptable, and they seem to get the message,” Kelly added. “It’s more challenging to get them to turn this into an actionable plan.”

Kelly, elected from once-solidly conservative Arizona, is among the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate. He’s aggressively targeted by Republicans in what is already a tough year for Democrats who are fighting to hold onto their razor-thin majority in the Senate.

Kelly declined to discuss the impact of the decision on his tough reelection campaign, saying he’s focused on his job as senator.

“They know the realities of Arizona and its history, especially as a border state,” Mike Noble, a Phoenix-based pollster who used to consult for Republican campaigns but now focuses on nonpartisan polling, said of Arizona’s senators. “If they want to maintain their seats, they have to be tough on immigration, and if not, they could find themselves out of a job.”

Republicans see rising numbers of migrants as a winning issue with swing voters, particularly in border states like Arizona. An AP-NORC poll conducted in January found just 39% of Americans approve of how Biden is handling immigration. Eighty-seven percent of Republicans said they disapprove, but so did 34% of Democrats.

“The entire country sees the failure of the Biden administration and the laughing matter that this is to Kamala Harris, the self-appointed czar,” said Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, the co-chair of the Republican Governors Association, which raises money to elect GOP governors. “They’re gonna pay a hell of a price at the ballot box in November. In every state.”

In Texas, Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, both of whom represent border districts, joined Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation this week in expressing concern about ending Title 42.

“I did tell the White House, you understand that there will be vulnerable Democrats,” Cuellar said. “They acknowledge those concerns. But I think the White House has been under tremendous pressure by the immigration activists. They’re very vocal.”

Encapsulating internal divisions among Democrats, Cuellar’s primary opponent, immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros, said on Twitter that Cuellar’s support for keeping Title 42 amounts to “cruel and inhuman treatment of people whose stories and families resemble our own.”

Advocates for immigrants and refugees in Arizona say it’s long past time for the Biden administration to stop using public health rules to prevent people from claiming asylum.

Arizona’s senators seem to be looking at the border issue through a national political lens, said Joanna Williams, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, which works in the twin border towns of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico.

“They are underestimating Arizonans,” Williams said. “We really have a community of hospitality that can arise to the occasion and help people. The senators need to listen to what people here are saying. This isn’t Texas.”

Alex Miller, director of asylum seekers and families for the International Rescue Committee in Arizona, said with coronavirus positivity rates among new arrivals now at less than 1% “the justification for closing the border is gone.”

“There is just no excuse for denying people fleeing from terrible abuse from getting asylum,” she said. “We have a moral responsibility to help these people.”


Associated Press writers Emily Swanson and Nomaan Merchant in Washington contributed.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Most Americans are sleepy new Gallup poll finds...

Associated Press

Most Americans say they don’t get enough sleep, according to new Gallup poll

A new Gallup poll found that most Americans are sleepy — or, at least, they say they are. Multiple factors play into this.

2 days ago

Near-total abortion ban in Arizona dates back to Civil War era...

Associated Press

Near-total abortion ban dates back to 1864, during the Civil War, before Arizona was a state

The near-total abortion ban resurrected last week by the Arizona Supreme Court dates to 1864, when settlers were encroaching on tribal lands.

2 days ago

Tracy Toulou...

Associated Press

How to tackle crime in Indian Country? Empower tribal justice, ex-Justice Department official says

A recently retired director of the Justice Dept. says the federal government hasn't given tribal justice systems equal recognition.

3 days ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson...

Associated Press

House Speaker Mike Johnson says he will push for aid to Israel and Ukraine this week

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Sunday he will try to advance wartime aid for Israel this week, along with funding for Ukraine.

3 days ago

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, at Pullman Yards in Atlanta...

Associated Press

US shoots down ‘nearly all’ Iran-launched attack drones as Biden vows support for Israel’s defense

Joe Biden cut short a weekend stay at his beach house to meet with his national security team as Iran launched an attack against Israel.

4 days ago

Protesters in Phoenix shout as they join thousands marching around the Arizona state Capitol after ...

Associated Press

Abortion ruling supercharges Arizona to be an especially important swing state

A ruling this week instituting a near-total abortion ban supercharged Arizona's role, turning it into the most critical battleground.

5 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Vulnerable Democrats warn Biden about reopening asylum