Biden Grappling With Immigration And Travel Restrictions As Pandemic Worsens

WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 19: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the nation’s economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden also reiterated his hope that Facebook will better police vaccine misinformation on their platform. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(CNN) – President Joe Biden is facing increasing pressure from US allies and the travel industry to lift pandemic-era restrictions barring entry to the country, leading to tense conversations among administration officials over the health and political risks of opening up too soon.

A tangled web of Covid-19 border restrictions has limited who can travel to the US. One of the rules bars migrants from seeking asylum. Others prevent foreigners from visiting family. And tourism from abroad has been effectively halted while the restrictions remain in place.

The ongoing discussions combine two issues Biden has grappled with since taking office — immigration and the coronavirus pandemic — at a time when both are under heavy political scrutiny. On Wednesday, the administration moved to delay opening up nonessential travel with Mexico and Canada until August 21.

The stakes are high for Biden, who officials say is trying to avoid a situation where restrictions are lifted only to be put in place again in the future. Meanwhile, liberals and conservatives alike are scrutinizing the President’s immigration policies and the Trump-era restrictions that remain in place.

When questioned about the timing for reopening borders, the White House has pointed to interagency working groups that were formed last month. Overseen by the White House Covid-19 response team and the National Security Council, the groups include representatives from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with officials from the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Transportation.

The American officials were partnered with representatives from the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada and Mexico and have met several times to discuss the reopening situation since the administration announced them at the start of Biden’s first foreign trip in June. There have also been multiple smaller group conversations in between those larger meetings to discuss specific issues, like the epidemiological situation, variants, surveillance, and vaccination efforts and plans for changing travel restrictions, a White House official told CNN.

By Priscilla Alvarez and Kevin Liptak for CNN
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