President Biden’s Broken Promises for Asylum Seekers

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Authors: Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Lauri Álvarez

This article was first published in the Fall 2021 issue of The Advocate.

It’s been a tough few months and we’ve all felt it. The images of our Haitian brothers and sisters suffering under the bridge in Del Rio, Texas at the U.S.-Mexico border and being horrifically mistreated by Border Patrol agents on horseback, using reins as if they were whips, did not represent who we want to be as a country. Yet it did highlight the inhumanity and ineffectiveness of current U.S. policies still in place under the Biden Administration. And the reality is that more than six months into the administration, not much has changed for asylum seekers and migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump-era anti-asylum policies, like Title 42, are still in place and other policies, like MPP, are on the verge of being reinstated. We were very glad to see the Biden Administration’s decision to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans, a decision which provides relief to several hundred thousand people in the United States. Yet while President Biden made multiple promises during his campaign to protect immigrants, support a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, and restore access to asylum at our border, there’s been very little progress. Here’s a quick summary of the latest, how we’ve been pushing back and how you can join us to make sure President Biden doesn’t go further backwards on his promises and instead, does the right thing, welcoming the men, women, families, and children arriving at our border with dignity.

Though the Biden Administration has supported a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, it’s ultimately up to the Congress to make this a reality for the Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries. We’ve been keeping up the pressure for the Senate to move ahead with a bill to grant TPS beneficiaries a pathway to citizenship and have been holding press calls with members of Congress and sharing resources with our partners. We’ve also kept up the heat on President Biden to extend TPS protections because of the devastating impacts from last year’s back-to-back hurricanes Eta and Iota in Central America. Thanks to our collective work, the administration finally extended designations for El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua for another 18 months, meaning that the citizens of those countries can continue their lives here in the United States without fear of deportation. Of course, we know that this isn’t really a long-term solution and are hopeful that with the support of all of you, we will win a pathway to citizenship.

Unfortunately, on other fronts, President Biden seems to be breaking his promises to asylum seekers. The Trump-era CDC policy, Title 42, is still in place and instead of winding it down or rescinding it, the Biden Administration extended it indefinitely and has been ramping up expulsions to Haiti, Mexico, and Guatemala. Together with U.S. and Mexican organizations, we documented how Title 42 expulsion flights from the U.S. border were returning asylum seeking men, women, and families from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and elsewhere, without any protection screening, to remote towns along the Mexico-Guatemala border, leaving people to fend for themselves. We heard from one of our partners, Asylum Access Mexico, that one woman said she was told she was going to Houston, only to find herself in the remote jungle of El Ciebo, Guatemala. We held meetings with congressional offices and organized a virtual briefing so that our Mexican partners could directly share the migrant and refugee rights violations they’ve been monitoring in southern Mexico to the Congress and explain how U.S. pressure has fueled the Mexican government to militarize its own borders. Instead of externalizing the U.S. border, we are calling on the Biden Administration to work with the governments in the region to support humanitarian solutions like the processing of refugees from the region and allowing them to seek safety wherever they feel safe, be it Mexico or another country.

In the meantime, these deadly flights are continuing. Since August 5th, there have now been more than 80 Title 42 flights to the southern Mexico cities of Villahermosa and Tapachula with no clear transparency for the agreements between the United States and Mexico around these expulsions. Title 42 flights to Guatemala started in early September and are continuing, increasing the burden for civil society organizations already struggling to receive deported Guatemalans. And following the Del Rio encampment of Haitians, there has been a staggering number—more than 80—flights to Haiti, returning over 8,000 Haitian women, men, and families to crisis-ridden Haiti. 

We’ve been speaking out loud and clear to send the message that these Title 42 flights to Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, and other countries must end. Out of the over 1 million expulsions that have happened under this policy since its start in March 2020, only around 3,000 asylum seekers have been referred for interviews with U.S. asylum officers, and just 272 of those passed their interviews. This is unacceptable. We have joined forces with Haitian-led organizations to call on the administration to stop the expulsions to Haiti, protect black migrants once and for all, and to investigate what happened at Del Rio, Texas to hold CBP and DHS accountable. We are keeping up the fight with you to end Title 42 but know that we might be in it for the long haul. In September, the Biden Administration appealed a lawsuit that attempted to stop Title 42 from applying to families and won, so unfortunately, the policy will remain in place for adults and families. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the states of Texas and Missouri sued the Biden Administration for the way that it ended the Remain in Mexico policy, forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico throughout their U.S. immigration proceedings, and ordered them to restart the policy. The case went to the Supreme Court, and unfortunately, it stayed the lower court’s ruling, meaning that the Biden Administration was forced to restart the policy “in good faith.” We have been urging the Biden Administration to do what it can to not back down on ending Remain in Mexico, and to issue another termination memo of the policy. Thanks to our calls, the Biden Administration finally issued a termination memo reiterating what we’ve been highlighting since the start, including the inhumanity of the policy, the human rights violations to which it subjects asylum seekers waiting in Mexico, and the lack of legal counsel afforded to people under it. We welcomed the publication of this termination memo as well as the Biden Administration’s request to the court to vacate the order, and hope that this will soon signal that DHS will ultimately not reimplement the policy, but in the meantime, we won’t stop demanding that it never be implemented again. The Remain in Mexico policy forced over 70,000 asylum seekers into dangerous conditions in Mexico, subjected them to grave human rights violations, and made access to counsel and due process impossible for many. We will keep up the pressure to let President Biden know that any effort to restart this policy would be breaking his promise to asylum seekers and demonstrating that his administration is not committed to truly restoring access to asylum at the border. There is no humane, safe or lawful way to implement this policy. 

We have a lot of hard fights ahead but will keep at it with you and with our civil society partners south of the border. It is not too late for the Biden Administration to change course to protect immigrant communities, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. We know that there are humanitarian solutions that are possible with strong collaboration between the U.S. government and organizations on both sides of the border. The administration needs to start by demonstrating a commitment to ending Trump anti-asylum policies and chart a course forward at the border and in the region—for a humane and dignified processing and reception of people at the border, and an expansion of possibilities for migrants and refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean to seek safety without having to make the dangerous journey to the United States.