White House Pushes to Further Criminalize Asylum-Seekers (OPINION)

Jan 10, 2023
5:20 PM

Migrants who had crossed the Rio Grande River into the U.S. are under the custody of National Guard members as they await the arrival of U.S. Border Patrol agents in Eagle Pass, Texas, Friday, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

HOUSTON — On Thursday the Biden administration announced new measures to address issues at the U.S.-Mexico border. While the plan allows for 30,000 asylum-seekers a month from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, that allowance comes with severe restrictions that make seeking asylum more complicated than ever. To qualify, migrants are required to apply for asylum in their home countries and have a financial sponsor in the United States.

A major part of the administration’s plan involves denying asylum-seekers their right to due process and expelling them through the continued use of Title 42, a Trump-era policy used to deny entry based on concerns for public health. Among the restrictions implemented by the administration involves denying asylum-seekers if they traveled through a third country to reach the U.S. but failed to apply for asylum there. Mexico has agreed to accept 30,000 asylum-seekers a month from the four countries mentioned in Biden’s order.

According to the administration, if more migrants than that number are apprehended, they will be processed under normal immigration law. However, under the new rules, such processing could result in deportation and a five-year ban from entering the country.

The new policy is an expansion of the existing effort to prevent Venezuelans from entering the United States.

Alongside suing to keep Title 42 in place, the Biden administration has been planning to implement new rules at the border that mimic what Title 42 does in expelling migrants before they’ve had a chance to exercise their right to a hearing for an asylum claim.

While Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials say they will begin denying asylum to those who enter the country “illegally,” they fail to acknowledge that crossing the border in between points of entry and turning yourself in to border officials is a legal pathway. The new policy echoes those of the Trump administration that were deemed inhumane by a large portion of the country—people who likely voted for Joe Biden.

“We can provide humanitarian relief consistent with our values, cut out vicious smuggling organizations, and enforce our laws,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “Individuals without a legal basis to remain in the United States will be subject to prompt expulsion or removal. Individuals who are provided a safe, orderly, and lawful path to the United States are less likely to risk their lives traversing thousands of miles in the hands of ruthless smugglers, only to arrive at our southern border and face the legal consequences of unlawful entry.”

While controversial, the measures are unlikely to take effect right away as they are expected to be challenged by both sides of the political aisle.

The International Refugee Assistance Program strongly denounced the policy through a press release from its policy director, Sunil Varghese, for actively following inhumane Trump-era policies. Among them are policies that were challenged and deemed unconstitutional in federal court while Trump was in office. More specifically, the “asylum transit ban” the administration is attempting to employ had been declared “inconsistent with existing asylum laws” under Trump.

“President Biden and his administration are now actively pursuing discredited Trump policies like Title 42 and an asylum transit ban in an attempt to score political points at the border,” said Varghese. “Opening up new limited pathways for a small percentage of people does not obscure the fact that the Biden administration is illegally and immorally gutting access to humanitarian protections for the majority of people who have already fled their country seeking freedom and safety. The administration must reverse course immediately.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also denounced the policy through its director of border strategies, Jonathan Blazer. Underscoring the administration’s inconsistency, Blazer pointed to Biden’s condemnation of Trump’s asylum policies and the president’s campaign promise to restore United States asylum law.

“Title 42 expulsions were already an unjustifiable misuse of the public health laws; this knee-jerk expansion of Title 42 will put more lives in grave danger,” said Blazer. “Let’s be clear: nothing requires the administration to expand Title 42 while it claims to be preparing for its ending. There is simply no reason why the benefits of a new parole program for Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians must be conditioned on the expansion of dangerous expulsions.”

Amnesty International USA advocacy director for the Americas, Amy Fischer, also condemned the administration’s actions via a statement. Fischer pointed to Biden’s reversal of its commitment to human rights and racial justice “by once again expanding the use of Title 42, announcing rulemaking on an asylum transit ban, expanding the use of expedited removal, and implementing a new system.”

“While we welcome the expanded humanitarian parole program to provide a pathway for Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans to apply for protection without having to make the dangerous journey to the border, that must not come at the expense of the human right to seek asylum,” said Fischer. “These new policies will undoubtedly have a disparate impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people seeking safety.”

Politically, Democrats have denounced the policy as being inhumane while Republicans denounce it for not being cruel enough. The administration’s policies will be difficult to implement as they’re expected to be challenged using myriad arguemnts by both sides in federal court.

What happens next remains to be seen, but we can expect rulings in the coming weeks.


Arturo Domínquez is a first-generation Cuban American, anti-racist, journalist, and the publisher of The Antagonist magazine. Twitter: @ExtremeArturo