Former Democratic Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke criticized President Biden for his administration’s immigration policy, particularly regarding the asylum process that the former lawmaker says fails to deliver on Biden’s 2020 campaign promises.
Speaking at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics on Thursday, O’Rourke said he was optimistic during Biden’s campaign that his border policy would be a drastic improvement over former President Trump’s strategy.
“When Joe Biden was running in 2020, he ran with such incredible moral clarity on this issue: ‘We will no longer put kids in cages because they’re not animals, we will no longer tear babies from the breasts of their mothers,’ literally what Trump was doing in his family separation policy,” O’Rourke said. “‘We’re going to restore the soul of America, and we’re going to live up to our promise.’ Man, that was inspiring to me. I needed to hear that, living on the border and as someone who really cares about that.”
O’Rourke admitted that he believes Biden has been successful in addressing immigration “on some counts” and that his administration’s rhetoric is a “night-and-day” difference when compared to the Trump years.
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“Biden is not inspiring, I don’t think, any acts of political terror or the kind of slaughter that we saw in El Paso, and yet, on other counts, he’s really failing us,” he said.
“The asylum ban that we see that makes it so hard for people to lawfully, safely, and in an orderly fashion come to this country when they cannot stay in their own,” the ex-congressman continued. “Because why the hell else would you travel 2,000 miles – the length of this continent – much of it on foot, some of it on top, not inside, of a train, called the beast, La Bestia, facing rape, torture, you know, kidnapping by these transnational criminal organizations, only to come to the most heavily militarized border probably anywhere in this hemisphere, if not this planet, where you risk your life. And more migrants have died this year than any year on record.”
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O’Rourke, a three-term congressman who lost the 2018 Texas Senate election to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, the 2020 presidential election that ultimately went to Biden and the 2022 Texas gubernatorial election to incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, also warned that Biden’s immigration policy could hurt his support among younger voters in next year’s presidential election.
A New York Times-Siena College poll released last weekend shows Trump, the GOP frontrunner, leading Biden in five of six swing states with a year until the 2024 presidential election.
“This is critical if you want to win in 2024. It is no secret that Democratic voters are unexcited about Biden — that’s putting it politely. It is no secret, thanks to the poll that we just read,” O’Rourke said. “The young voters especially are leaving his banner in droves. Now will they vote for Donald Trump? Will they vote for [Robert F. Kennedy Jr.]? Will they not vote at all? I don’t know. But let’s give them a reason to vote for the president. Something bold, something big, something that matches the rhetoric that he used in 2020 and inspires voters in 2024 is what’s needed right now.”
The Biden administration has reversed several of the Trump administration’s border policies since 2021. It has also attempted to open new pathways for legal entry into the U.S. while making it more difficult to claim asylum without previous authorization, a policy O’Rourke described as an “asylum ban.”
“More migrants have died this year than any year on record. And last year more migrants had died than any year on record,” O’Rourke said. “They’re drowning, they’re dying of dehydration and exposure in the desert, and these are little babies and mothers and f***ing human beings who don’t deserve to be treated that way.”
He added: “And when you ban them from coming to this country lawfully and when they know to stay in Honduras, or El Salvador or Haiti is to die in Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti, and they have no other choice but to try to come into this country between ports of entry, risking drowning and death and imprisonment, and yes, some level of separation that is still taking place in this country.”
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The White House announced last month that it would use executive authority to sidestep environmental and historical protection regulations to build segments of border wall in Texas. Biden had said during his 2020 campaign that he would not build “another foot” of Trump’s wall.
The Biden administration has also expanded some forms of relief for migrants, including expanding the Temporary Protected Status program and the use of immigration parole for certain new arrivals.
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“And look, I understand he has an argument to make when he says, ‘Look, this Congress will not work with me and you know, the majority in the House of Representatives aren’t going to do anything to improve the situation at our border to treat people with the humanity that they deserve,'” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke also highlighted that Democrats held majorities in the House and Senate during the first two years of Biden’s presidency and claimed immigration reform was not prioritized during that time. He also said Biden could move faster on granting parole and work authorization to new migrant arrivals.