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Biden takes executive action to limit the number of migrants crossing from Mexico

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden took sweeping executive action today, aimed at cracking down on illegal crossings at the southern border.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I've come here today to do what the Republicans in Congress refused to do - take the necessary steps to secure our border.

KELLY: The new steps will allow Biden to shut the border to asylum-seekers when there are surges in numbers of people trying to get across. Now, this comes just a couple of weeks before his first debate with former President Trump. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is covering the presidential campaign. He is here with us now to talk about the politics of all this. Hey, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK. Tell me more. This executive order - how does it work - in a nutshell?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, this is a move that's long been expected. And what it will mean is that, when there are 2,500 people a day trying to cross the border unlawfully, the system effectively will shut down. And that's a threshold that they're already seeing, so the new restrictions are expected to start right away. And it won't reopen until the daily numbers fall below 1,500.

KELLY: And just to point out, this is very similar to what the bipartisan group of senators were trying to get done earlier this year.

ORDOÑEZ: That's right. I mean, Republicans pulled out of that bipartisan agreement that would have taken many of the similar steps. And polls do show that Americans see this issue as one of the biggest problems of the day, and most Americans actually don't approve of the way that Biden is handling the border. The Biden administration, though, says that they had no choice to do this after the Republicans backed out of that deal. And here's Biden again, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: So today, I'm moving past Republican obstruction and using the executive authorities available to me as president to do what I can on my own to address the border.

KELLY: OK. I want to note - we're saying Republicans backed out of that deal. That was largely led by Trump, who undercut that previous deal because of politics, which prompts me to ask you - how much of Biden's motivations here are political?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, for sure. And I mean, I think, today, what really struck me is how Biden jumped right into the politics of this and blamed Republicans for what he described as a border crisis. I mean, we are entering crunch time for the election. The first debate is weeks away. Early voting starts in September. I mean, this is one of Biden's biggest political vulnerabilities.

And it's really not just Republicans attacking him. I mean, when he made that announcement in the East Room of the White House, he was surrounded by mayors and governors, including some Democrats who have been raising concerns and pushing him to get tougher on the border.

KELLY: Yeah. So who is he trying to reach with this message?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, this is an issue that's no longer just a concern for border states. I mean, I kind of noted that this is a concern in cities and towns hundreds of miles from the border, including in the important battleground states that are going to decide this election. I spoke with Ben Tulchin, a Democratic pollster. He says voters are paying attention right now.

BEN TULCHIN: President Biden has a real tough fight for reelection on his hands, and he's got to convince voters in swing states that he's taking border security seriously. If you think about the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Nevada and Arizona - you know, immigration and border security matters.

ORDOÑEZ: And he pointed out that this is a particular concern among suburban voters in those states - for people who are concerned about crime and border security.

KELLY: Let me ask you about reaction to this executive order. What's the Trump campaign saying?

ORDOÑEZ: The Trump campaign is calling it toothless. They're saying Trump is much tougher. They're pointing to some of the exceptions in the measures, such as for unaccompanied minors. And there are some real challenges for Biden, such as the lack of resources at the border. That said, these are some of the toughest measures by a Democratic administration.

KELLY: And briefly, what about reaction from immigration groups, advocacy groups?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, he really - Biden is getting attacked from both sides. I mean, these are plans that are kind of out of Trump's playbook. Trump tried to use this same authority, and they were sued by the ACLU. And the ACLU told me that they plan to sue again.

KELLY: NPR's Franco Ordoñez reporting from the White House. Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.