(CNN) — The two images of the same Biden were striking.
In Warsaw, Poland, President Joe Biden expressed his unequivocal support for refugees from Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. But back home, his administration just hours later announced its toughest policy yet, aimed at turning away immigrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution and economic ruin in their home countries.
From behind a podium emblazoned with the iconic seal of the US presidency and in front of an array of American, Ukrainian and Polish flags, Biden delivered a moving message Tuesday: America will always stand with Ukraine on the side of democracy. and freedom.
Speaking ahead of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden said it was critical to care for millions of Ukrainians whose homes, families and livelihoods have been destroyed over the past year.
“Look what they have done so far. Poland hosts more than 1.5 million refugees from this war. God bless you,” Biden told the crowd gathered at the Royal Castle. “Poland’s generosity, her willingness to open their hearts and her homes, is extraordinary.”
Back home, that show of appreciation for the Polish people struck a chord.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security announced the administration’s most restrictive policy yet, aimed at reducing the number of migrants seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border. The newly proposed rule, which would go into effect in May and is reminiscent of a controversial policy dating back to the Donald Trump administration, largely prohibits migrants who traveled through other countries on their way to the US southern border. U.S. apply for asylum in that country.
The decision marks a significant departure from longstanding protocol that allows migrants to apply for asylum regardless of how they arrived on US soil.
“It’s a contradiction,” say critics of Biden’s immigration policy
While the two populations (refugees fleeing war and asylum seekers) are different, the contrast between Biden’s own words directed at refugees in Europe and his administration’s newly announced policy on the US southern border It did not go unnoticed among immigration and human rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers alike, some of whom were quick to express their dismay.
A senior Democratic aide, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely, bluntly described the situation as a “true contradiction.”
“You see the president really highlighting how many refugees Poland has accepted,” the aide said. “And then on the same day, there is an implementation to very actively reduce the number of people who can even access our asylum system.”
Administration officials have cited new programs that allow certain immigrants to apply to come to the United States and highlighted efforts to expand access to legal avenues in their defense of the law. The administration has also argued that the move is part of a broader effort to establish order in an immigration system that has been under immense strain and address immigrants with valid asylum claims, which are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Still, the announcement served as another reminder of how the situation at the US border has proven to be one of the thorniest political issues for the Biden White House. During the first half of the president’s first term, Biden and his top advisers grappled with Title 42, a Trump-era border restriction that the administration has publicly criticized and relied on to stifle the flow of migrants arriving in the US border. The law is the subject of ongoing litigation.
With that policy set to expire in May, finding and enforcing other measures to restrict the thousands of migrants arriving at the southern US border has only become more urgent for the White House, particularly as Republican lawmakers are anxious. for painting Biden as a president weak to control the border.
But the patchwork of policies implemented by the administration in recent weeks has put the president squarely at odds with his own allies.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus previously expressed frustration with the administration when officials previewed the rule last month, saying they were surprised and disappointed by the new border policies over what they said is a lack of direct engagement by part of the White House.
The administration tried to correct course in private meetings last week with lawmakers about the early publication of the new asylum rule. But in a closed-door meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Democratic Hispanic senators maintained their strong opposition and voiced their ongoing concerns, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
Among those present in the room was Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Menendez, who had previously written a letter to the president to share his concerns, condemned the proposed asylum rule Tuesday in a joint statement with Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Democratic Senator Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and Alex Padilla of California.
“We are deeply disappointed that the administration has chosen to go ahead with the publication of this proposed rule, which only perpetuates the harmful myth that asylum seekers are a threat to this nation. In reality, they are following a legal path in the United States,” the statement said.
“We have an obligation to protect vulnerable migrants under national and international law and we must not leave vulnerable migrants stranded in countries that cannot protect them,” he continued.
In a statement, Luis Miranda, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the proposal “is part of a first-of-its-kind plan that expands legal avenues and has already reduced illegal immigration while allowing thousands of people to enter legally to the United States without having to put your life in the hands of smugglers.”
Still, immigrant advocates and former Biden officials have criticized the move, calling it a twist on Biden’s promise to restore asylum and a move toward Trump-era policies. Biden has long promised to take a humane approach to the situation at the border, a promise some critics say the current White House could risk breaking with some of its restrictive border policies.
Anu Joshi, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Department of Political Advocacy, said in a statement: “This asylum ban is, in essence, the Trump asylum ban by a different name.”