May 3, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden beefs up border team as pressure builds

 President Joe Biden speaks with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer during a presentation about immigration and border security

President Biden speaks with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer during a presentation about immigration and border security. Photo: Cheney Orr/Getty Images

The Biden administration is eyeing a new point guard on border issues, with plans to bring in the Department of Homeland Security's Blas Nuñez-Neto, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: A lack of ownership among senior White House officials on the border has hampered President Biden's ability to respond to what has become one of his most vulnerable election issues.

  • Nuñez-Neto has been closely involved with border issues as assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at DHS. The precise timing of his move to the White House is unclear.

Zoom in: It's the second border-related move involving senior White House personnel in recent months, after years of the administration struggling to get a handle on historic levels of migration.

  • The move comes as Biden's administration considers executive actions on immigration and the border — and as voters continue to rank illegal immigration as a top concern heading into the Nov. 5 election.
  • In April, Gallup found for the third straight month that more Americans named immigration before any other issue as the "most important" problem facing the country.
  • That's the longest streak of concern for the issue that the poll had found in 24 years.

Nuñez-Neto, an immigrant born in Argentina, is a leading advocate for the administration in its efforts to deal with the historic numbers of migrants and asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • He played a central role in the Senate negotiations over the bipartisan border deal that ultimately was killed by Republicans and former President Trump.
  • Nuñez-Neto has worked in various roles related to the border — on Capitol Hill, at Customs and Border Protection and as a researcher at Rand Corporation.
  • "With commanding knowledge of immigration policy and deep expertise in foreign relations, [Nuñez-Neto] brings unique and invaluable perspective to some of the most complex issues we face," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told Axios in a statement.

Between the lines: Nuñez-Neto is expected to join deputy chief of staff Natalie Quillian's team rather than the Domestic Policy Council (DPC) or National Security Council (NSC), which largely took the lead on the border issue for the first years of the Biden administration.

  • Since Susan Rice departed as director of the DPC a year ago, Quillian — a close ally of Biden chief of staff Jeff Zients — has taken more ownership of the border portfolio.
  • The DPC continues to work on domestic immigration issues, including the plan announced Friday to allow undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
  • The NSC still has a significant role on immigration and border issues, with Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall taking the lead.
  • The NSC has also added Marcela Escobari — assistant administrator of USAID's Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean — to be a point person on migration in the Western Hemisphere.

What they're saying: "We are looking forward to DHS Assistant Secretary Blas Nuñez-Neto joining the White House and continuing his work implementing the Administration's vision across the border security and immigration spaces," White House Spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández told Axios in a statement.

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