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Biden shares his border security plan ahead of trip to Mexico

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

President Biden is set to visit El Paso, Texas, on Sunday, a city that has struggled with growing numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. That issue has also been causing a massive political headache for the president. And now he says he has a new plan that will help. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The Biden administration is taking a whole lot of blame for its management of an immigration system that almost everyone agrees is outdated, broken and not up to the task of the current record flow of migrants.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We should all recognize that as long as America is the land of freedom and opportunity, people are going to try to come here.

KEITH: President Biden spoke from the White House earlier today about a new effort to address the problem.

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BIDEN: We can't stop people from making the journey, but we can require them to come here - that they come here in an orderly way under U.S. law.

KEITH: For months, GOP critics and even some Democrats have demanded that Biden visit the border to see the situation for himself. Two years into his presidency, Biden hasn't really put his stamp on U.S. immigration policy. The biggest change announced today is a system for people fleeing violence or repression in Venezuela, Honduras, Cuba and Haiti to temporarily live and work in the U.S. They would need a sponsor. And they'd have to pass a background check, Biden said.

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BIDEN: Currently, these four countries account for most of the people traveling into Mexico to start a new life by getting to the American border and trying to cross. But instead of safe and orderly process at the border, we have a patchwork system that simply doesn't work as it should.

KEITH: The plan would be to allow 30,000 people a month to enter the U.S. this way, arriving on commercial flights. And while it sounds like a big number, it's only a small share of those trying to cross each month. Angela Kelly is the chief policy adviser for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

ANGELA KELLY: We want to create legal pathways for people so that they come with a visa and not a smuggler. That's the carrot of a carrot-and-stick approach.

KEITH: Kelly previously served in the Department of Homeland Security in the Biden administration.

KELLY: It's not a big enough carrot to meet the need, but it's a strong start. And I hope they continue to expand it. The stick is trouble. It's a spiky stick.

KEITH: Here's what she's referring to as the stick. People from affected countries who try to enter the U.S. without applying through this program will face immediate removal and be banned from the program, says Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: Citizens from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti who attempt to cross our border without authorization will be swiftly expelled to Mexico, which will accept returns of 30,000 individuals per month.

KEITH: Today's announcement is unlikely to silence Biden's critics, who quickly dismissed his planned border trip as a photo op. Biden urged his fellow politicians to stop using immigration as a political cudgel and come together to find a more lasting solution. But for now, he said he hopes this new program will give people an alternative to making a dangerous journey to the U.S.

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BIDEN: Do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are, and apply legally from there. Starting today, if you don't apply through the legal process, you will not be eligible for this new parole program.

KEITH: This announcement and planned trip to El Paso comes on the eve of Biden's first trip to Mexico as president. Immigration is on the agenda, but administration officials say they also want to cover climate change, energy policy and drug trafficking, including fentanyl. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.