Biden and Mexico’s President Vow Combined Action on Illegal Immigration

President Biden and the president of Mexico on Monday vowed combined action to prevent illegal immigration as Mr. Biden remains under intense political pressure from all sides to address the impact of surging border crossings ahead of the presidential election this year.

In a joint statement, Mr. Biden and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said they had ordered their national security aides to “work together to immediately implement concrete measures to significantly reduce irregular border crossings while protecting human rights.”

The statement, which followed a phone call between the two leaders on Sunday, did not specify any actions under consideration. A senior administration official declined to elaborate on what the United States and Mexico might “immediately implement” and said only that the two sides would continue to have conversations about the issue.

The lack of clarity leaves in limbo an issue that could be a deciding factor in whether Mr. Biden stays in the Oval Office for another four years. Polls of both Republicans and Democrats in recent months indicate that the situation at the border is a serious concern. And even some of the president’s most fervent supporters in liberal cities are demanding that he do something to stanch the flow of migrants.

The president’s latest plan to do that — with a highly restrictive immigration bill that had some bipartisan support — fell apart over the last several months as Republicans in the House blocked it. Mr. Biden had called for the legislation to be passed alongside financial aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, but when Congress finally reached a deal on the funding earlier this month, the border legislation was not included.

That leaves Mr. Biden with few options to address either global migration patterns that have changed dramatically or an American immigration system that both parties admit has been dysfunctional for decades.

Some activists and administration officials believe Mr. Biden is nearing a decision to announce an executive action that could impose dramatic new limits on asylum seekers, drawing on the same legal authority that President Donald J. Trump saw as the best way to keep immigrants out of the country when he was in office.

Stephen Miller, the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda, had long pushed for a broad interpretation of part of the federal code, known as 212(f), to enable the president to block migrants from even stepping foot across the border into the United States.

People familiar with the discussions underway at the White House and in the Department of Homeland Security say officials are talking about a presidential proclamation that could cite that section of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, which provides the president authority to suspend immigration for anyone determined to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Administration officials have refused to give any timeline on whether Mr. Biden could announce an order shutting down asylum at the border. The president said as much in an interview that aired on Univision on April 9.

“There’s no guarantee that I have that power all by myself without legislation,” Mr. Biden said. “And some have suggested I should just go ahead and try it. And if I get shut down by the court, I get shut down by the court.”

Border officials have struggled to contend with the surging numbers at the southern border, particularly in December, when border agents made nearly 250,000 apprehensions of migrants crossing illegally.

Since then, the Biden administration has worked closely with Mexico to ramp up enforcement. Those efforts appear to have paid off, for now. In February, border agents made more than 140,000 apprehensions, and in March the number was slightly lower — with over 137,000 arrests.

The kind of executive action Mr. Biden has talked about worries people who advocate for migrants. They say the use of a blunt legal tool is likely to deny migrants the reasonable rights to claim refuge in the United States when they flee danger or torture in their home countries.

“We’ve seen how policies designed to deter and punish people who are coming to the U.S. to seek protection do not achieve their stated goal of stopping people from coming,” said Robyn Barnard, senior director for refugee advocacy at Human Rights First, an immigrant advocacy group. “More of the same tired and unlawful policies that the former president Trump attempted are not smart or real solutions for the problems we face.”

Administration officials point to the fact that the president implemented a series of proposals aimed at increasing legal immigration into the United States from countries that have been hit hard by war, famine, climate change and political instability.

But critics say those programs, while positive, could be overwhelmed by other actions that impose broad new restrictions.

“The president should be looking at tools that have actually reduced unauthorized migration, like his own parole pathways, not another symbolic asylum ban,” said Andrea Flores, a former Biden administration official and current vice president for immigration policy at, an advocacy group.

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