WASHINGTON, Jan 4 (Reuters) – The United States plans to accept up to 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela under a program paired with expulsions of people from those countries caught at the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. and Mexican officials said.
The expanded humanitarian program would build on a policy launched in October that allowed thousands of Venezuelans to enter by air if they applied from abroad and could demonstrate they had a U.S. sponsor, two U.S. and one Mexican official said on Wednesday.
The details on the planned program come as U.S. President Joe Biden plans to give a border security-themed speech on Thursday and intends to visit the U.S.-Mexico border next week, addressing an issue that has challenged the Democratic president during his first two years in office.
The two U.S. officials expected the new policies to be rolled out on Thursday but the White House did not respond to a request for comment seeking official confirmation.
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Biden told reporters at the White House on Wednesday after a visit to Kentucky that he wants to see “peace and security” at the border. He said earlier in the day that he intended to visit the southwest border but that details were still being finalized.
“I’m going to see what’s going on,” Biden said of the border trip. “I’m going to be making a speech tomorrow on border security, and you’ll hear more about it tomorrow.”
Biden did not reply when asked which city he planned to visit although the news website Axios later reported he would visit El Paso, Texas, a border city that declared a state of emergency in December amid high levels of migrant arrivals.
Biden is scheduled to travel to Mexico City on Jan. 9 and 10 for the North American Leaders’ Summit, where he will meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Biden, who took office in January 2021, has struggled operationally and politically with record numbers of migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and migration is expected to be on the agenda at the meeting.
Republicans have criticized what they say are lenient border security policies, while Biden officials say they are trying to create a more orderly and humane system.
Reuters reported last week that the Biden administration is planning to use pandemic-era restrictions to expel many Cuban, Nicaraguan and Haitian migrants caught at the southwest border back to Mexico, while simultaneously allowing some to enter the United States by air on humanitarian grounds.
Migrant advocates and some Democrats have pushed back on expanding the expulsions, saying the restrictions block migrants from exercising their right to apply for asylum and expose them to risky situations in Mexico.