WASHINGTON - Joe Biden is reportedly planning to launch a scheme to deport illegal migrants to Greece or Italy in a similar vein to the UK’s Rwanda policy.

According to CBS News, which cited “two people familiar with the government’s plans”, the Biden initiative is designed to discourage people from travelling to the US-Mexico border.

The US president’s plan comes weeks after his rival Donald Trump was reported to be considering a similar plan, involving resettlement to Guatemala or Panama.

Britain last month passed a law that is set to see asylum seekers flown to live in Rwanda.

The Biden plan would involve Greece and Italy welcoming migrants processed at immigration offices that the Biden administration set up last year in four Latin American countries to screen migrants who hope to reach the US.

The centres, officially known as Safe Mobility Offices, allow certain migrants in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Guatemala to apply to come to the US or other countries legally.

Under the new arrangements, Greece and Italy would join Canada and Spain in resettling some of those processed at the offices. One of the sources said Italy and Greece would likely accept a relatively small number of migrants, roughly 500 or fewer each.

‘Diplomatic discussions with other countries’

A spokesman for the State Department said the Safe Mobility Offices have “enabled a six-fold increase in the number of refugees resettled from the Western Hemisphere”.

“Given the success of the program,” the spokesman added, “we are in diplomatic discussions with other countries about joining this initiative to expand lawful pathways for resettlement but have no additional information to share at this time.”

On May 20, US officials met with diplomats from Canada, Italy, Spain and the countries hosting the Safe Mobility Offices to discuss the initiative, according to internal Department of Homeland Security documents. In an interview with CBS News last week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared to refer to the reported agreement with Greece.

“We work with Canada, Spain, and just recently, Greece, to build lawful pathways for individuals to arrive in their countries, out of the hands of smugglers who just seek to exploit these individuals for profit,” said Mr Mayorkas.

Italy has not responded but Greece categorically denied the report.

“The CBS report is untrue. There is neither an agreement nor a request from the US to resettle legal immigrants in Greece. Greek immigration policy is clear and effective, despite international difficulties, said Dimitris Kairides, the Greek immigration and asylum minister, told SKAI 100.3 radio.

“We are in a pre-election period, it is not a politically neutral time, some may want to make an impression.”

Earlier this month, Trump’s team was reported as saying he hoped to have a full plan for illegal migration ready to launch on the first day of his presidency if he wins the US election in November.

The scheme could involve illegal migrants from El Salvador or Honduras being sent to Guatemala, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The scheme is thought by some advisers to be a solution to the US migrant crisis, which saw more than 2.4 million people attempt to cross the southwestern American border in 2023.

Trump has made a mass deportation policy a central feature of his 2024 campaign, declaring that he hopes to remove “almost 20 million people” – 6 per cent of the US population.

The former president has also pledged to revive his plans for a border wall and endorsed the use of the National Guard on the Texas border by Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor.

The United Kingdom (UK) announced its Rwanda scheme in April 2022, but it has been mired in legal difficulty after being challenged in the courts.

Last month, the Government passed legislation to declare that the East African nation was a safe country to send migrants to in an attempt to shut down appeals by human rights charities.

The first flights are scheduled to take off at the end of June or early July, but Home Office sources have suggested the planes may have fewer than 10 passengers because of ongoing litigation.

The US and UK have similar issues with long backlogs in migrant processing, which experts have warned create additional incentives for migrants to make the dangerous crossing over the English Channel or the Rio Grande.

Mr Biden has proposed new staff to ease the migrant backlog and to police the border.

The issue is expected to be one of the major debates of the presidential election campaign, with Trump claiming that illegal migrant “animals” are responsible for violent crime.