The United States will begin placing restrictions on asylum-seeking migrants at the southern border starting Wednesday, the Biden administration announced in a long awaited presidential proclamation.

“President Biden believes we must secure our border. That is why today, he announced executive actions to bar migrants who cross our Southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum,” wrote the Biden administration.

The changes come as many states face a growing number of asylum seekers. In Massachusetts, migrants in state-run shelters and their advocates expressed concerned about what the Biden administration’s new rules will mean for families coming north.

The Healey administration said that as of May 30, over 3,755 families had entered the shelter system as migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers. There are almost 800 families, including some migrant, on the waitlist for emergency shelter.

Massachusetts politicians are divided on whether to laud or decry Biden’s move. Gov. Maura Healey supported Biden and blamed federal lawmakers for failing to adequately address immigration issues.

“President Biden is stepping up to secure the border while Congress refuses to do its job,” Healey said in a statement. “Congress has repeatedly failed to act on immigration reform, leaving states like Massachusetts to go above and beyond to address this federal problem. It is not sustainable and we need Congress to finally step up and act, now.”

In a similar tone, House Speaker Ronald Mariano echoed that Congress has failed to pass a bipartisan border agreement.

“President Biden’s executive order will help to quell the number of border crossings, and is representative of his commitment to addressing the issue with the tools available,” he wrote in a statement. Mariano said Massachusetts faces “enormous challenges stemming from the migrant crisis.”

“It is extremely disappointing that this White House would choose to double down on the previous administration’s harmful and flawed immigration policies, policies that would gut the asylum process, deny immigrants their due process, and put vulnerable families back in harm’s way, especially Black, brown and Indigenous migrants,” said U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley in a Washington press conference.

Jeff Thielman, CEO of International Institute of New England, a refugee agency said migrants who are trying to get to the United States have two options: use an app to schedule an appointment with an asylum officer while out of the country, or be admitted through a parole program if they can find a U.S. resident sponsor after a rigorous approval process.

“Should they make an attempt to cross the border without going through those processes, even if they have a credible fear, even if they have a credible claim for asylum, this order makes it almost impossible for them to do that,” Thielman said.

He and other advocates say one of the two methods migrants can still pursue, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s CBP One app, has been problematic. It must be used in another country, wait times are long, and the app is riddled with technical issues, according to migrants and advocates. There’s even been a lawsuitabout how the app violates federal disability law.

Women wearing masks get off a bus as a Border Patrol agent stands on the sidewalk next to the door.
A Border Patrol agent looks on as migrants seeking asylum arrive to a transportation center after being processed and released, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in San Diego. President Joe Biden has unveiled plans to enact immediate significant restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border as the White House tries to neutralize immigration as a political liability ahead of the November elections.
Gregory Bull AP

The changes will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. The bar will be 2,500 people apprehended at ports of entry, according to the Department of Homeland Security. That number is already exceeded daily by Border Patrol.

The White House also said the move will make it easier to deport those without a “lawful basis to remain” and reduce the burden on Border Patrol agents.

Migrants who don’t express fear of returning to their home countries could be deported from the U.S. within hours, and could potentially be barred from reentering the country for five years, and criminal prosecution, according to the administration.

Migrants who express fear of returning to their countries of origin will still be screened by asylum officers at the border in the long-required “credible fear” process, but the standard of proof will be higher, and the screening process will be much faster.

“They are going to be turning away people who have legitimate asylum claims that are legally eligible to apply for asylum and go through the process,” said Sarang Sekhavat, chief of staff at Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Immigrants must demonstrate an acute medical emergency in the family, extreme threat of life or safety, or that they are victims of trafficking.

Biden has the legal means to make these changes under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows the president to limit immigration for some migrants if it’s in the national interest. Former President Donald Trump similarly invoked this law in 2018.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced plans to sue the Biden administration over the new rule.

“President Biden’s planned executive action will put thousands of lives at risk. Such measures would not only be illegal, but also a cruel betrayal of the Biden administration’s promise to restore asylum,” said Carol Rose, executive director at the ACLU of Massachusetts. She said that instead of focusing on deterrence, the Biden administration should “put resources where they are needed to address the challenges at the border and to support people seeking safety, including in Massachusetts.”

Updated: June 04, 2024
This story has been updated to incorporate reaction from elected officials.