Joe Biden, under pressure to address a surge of migrants at the US-Mexico border, announced last week a wide-ranging crackdown on migrants seeking asylum, expanding the use of a controversial public health measure known as Title 42 to restrict people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Venezuela from illegally entering the US, while offering those legally seeking relief a new pathway to America.
Immigration reformers were dismayed by the Biden administration’s plan to expand Title 42 before President Trump made his first visit to the US-Mexico border as president in 2020. While they found solace in Vice President Biden’s efforts to create a legal path to an asylum for people from four countries.
They still felt that these measures were insufficient because they excluded other migrants and because the parole program is fraught with requirements that impose significant barriers to migrants without access to resources, thus perpetuating inequalities in the US immigration system.
In other words, immigration advocates argue that the benefits of increased refugee access and a legitimate route for asylum are outweighed by the costs of increased expulsion of migrants under the pretense of public health.
Alex Miller, director of the Immigration Justice Campaign at the American Immigration Council, said, “For many of us working in immigration justice, at the beginning of the administration, there was enormous hope that Title 42 would end and go forward to re-establish access to asylum.” We were hoping for more.
The goal of the “carrot and stick” approach taken by the Biden administration is to reduce the historically large numbers of migrants who are illegally entering the United States seeking asylum from persecution in their home countries.
Federal records from the 2022 fiscal year show that US border agents stopped migrants more than 2m times along the southern border, marking an all-time high. More than a million asylum seekers have been denied entry under Title 42.
“The difficulty is that the carrot is not widely available,” Miller said. Those who do not have the necessary nationality, money, or support to petition for parole will be denied “legal access to asylum.” It’s not a fair bargain because the sticks they’re offering limit access.
Under the Biden administration’s new policy, if migrants from those nations pass background checks, buy a plane ticket, receive financial sponsorship, and meet other standards, they would be allowed to lawfully enter under the “parole program”. They would be authorized to live and work in the US for two years.
However, immigration advocates are concerned about a proposed rule from the Department of Homeland Security that would make asylum seekers ineligible if they failed to seek protection in a third country before reaching the US and if they “circumvent available, established pathways to lawful migration,” as homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas put it last week.
This rule is similar to the “transit ban” implemented by the Trump administration. People were also concerned that the parole program’s requirements, which were fashioned after the administration’s treatment of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Venezuela, and Ukraine, would prevent entry for those migrants who lacked the financial means to pay for a plane ticket or secure a financial sponsor.
Immigrant youth-led rights organization United We Dream called Biden’s new policy “a racist and classist attack on migrants” on Twitter. United We Dream’s deputy director of federal advocacy, Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, said in a statement that the Biden administration’s expansion of Title 42 would damage “the same people seeking refuge that they pretend to protect”.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s director of border strategies, Jonathan Blazer, said in a statement that the Biden administration’s “knee-jerk expansion of Title 42 will put more lives in grave danger”, adding that his plan “ties his administration to the poisonous anti-immigrant policies of the Trump era instead of restoring fair access to asylum protections”.
Come on. The Trump asylum ban applied to 99.9% of people coming to the border. The Biden asylum ban may apply to 50-90%* of people coming to the border.
That’s still a ban.
*We haven’t seen the proposed regulation yet so this is speculation based on their public statements. https://t.co/KDgoqznN1x
— Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) January 7, 2023
“His pledges to individuals seeking refuge would ring entirely hollow if he proceeds through in swapping one illegal anti-asylum Trump policy for another,” Blazer warned. According to Miller of the Guardian, one of the administration’s latest suggestions is to allow asylum seekers to utilize an app in English and Spanish to make appointments.
The government claims that this will lessen “wait times and crowds at the US port of entry and allow for safe, orderly, and humane processing.” Miller said the effort makes the legal asylum-seeking process harder for migrants who lack technological access and speak indigenous dialects outside Spanish as well as for those who cannot acquire legal assistance to help them traverse the procedure.
Biden has emphasised that Congress needs to adopt a more comprehensive immigration reform. In the interim, the administration’s new parole process, which he described as “safe, orderly” and humane, would “make things better but would not fix the border problem completely”.
While the administration’s creation of the asylum that gives 30,000 people access is better than nothing, the center’s vice president of law and policy, Lisa Graybill, told the Guardian that the administration’s overall approach reflects seeing immigration enforcement and creating outlets for asylum as a “zero-sum game.”
She remarked that it was a common blunder for presidents and politicians. She added that Biden had been “following an outdated script that does not work” by directing resources toward enforcement rather than building a “humane and orderly processing system that is structured around recognizing the right to an asylum instead of abusing it”.
Instead, the parole program as designed, she said, will hurt impoverished migrants and those who fled their countries in haste without meeting all requirements, acting as barriers to even those who have legitimate asylum claims while helping middle and higher-income migrants with access to resources.
Angela Kelley, the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s chief adviser for policy and partnerships, called Biden’s development of the parole program “clever” and an example of him trying to “take the instruments in his toolbox and use them in more creative ways.”
She noted that under the Biden administration, efforts were made to quadruple the number of Latin American and Caribbean asylum-seekers resettled. She continued by saying that those escaping climate change-related disasters are eligible for refuge, but that the United States antiquated immigration regulations have not kept up with the times.
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