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Illegal and Inhumane: Biden-Harris and Immigration

The Biden Administration promised reformed and humane immigration policies. That is not what we are getting. “Illegal and Inhumane,” is how Harold Koh, a State Department Legal Adviser, described the Biden Administration’s escalation of Title 42 as its major immigration control tool. Koh resigned in October 2021. Human Rights First also quotes public health experts as saying, “Title 42 misuses public health authority to violate refugee law, block asylum at U.S. ports of entry, and expel people, seeking refuge, to danger.”

Initially the Administration said it would resume the so-called Migrant Protection Protocol (Remain in Mexico) requiring asylum seekers to take a number, thus be metered, while remaining in Mexico awaiting their hearings. In late October they stated they would end MPP and on Nov. 1st, stated they would end metering. But with Title 42 still a major control mechanism, it is not clear what this will change.

What occurs when migrants are returned to Mexico or further south? They are subjected to all the potential violence of Mexico. They are at the mercy of drug cartels, people smugglers, and sex slavery rings, some of which involve Mexican officials. They’re faced with insufficient numbers of shelters and necessary resources. Corruption and danger remain unimaginably high. Since Biden took office, at least 7,647 kidnappings or attacks on people expelled under Title 42 are identifiable. Since September, 8,000 Haitians have been expelled despite Haitians in the U.S. being eligible for Temporary Protected Status. 8,000 Hondurans and 6,000 Guatemalans, many of them Maya, have been expelled without allowed asylum claims. Despite the claim of not turning away families 29,000 children—9,000 of them under five and 600 infants— have been expelled.

Domestic and international law provide the absolute right for persons fleeing violence to present themselves in the US and make a claim for asylum. Just like under Trump, the Biden administration continues to violate these laws, refusing in many cases, to conduct required credible fear interviews. International law prohibits the return of people to situations where they face persecution or torture. The US government may not want more immigrants, especially people of color, but it is illegal not to allow their claims. There were 200,000 entry attempts in July 2021 and 195,558 in August according to Pew. This is the largest number of people seeking U.S. entry in decades.

The Biden Administration says it lacks the resources to address these numbers and the human needs they represent, but it has spent unknown sums on detention in deplorable conditions with few social or legal services—rather than releasing migrants to their families. They’ve spent $15M on deportation flights just to Haiti, not only of Haitians, many of whom have not lived in Haiti in years, but also of Chileans and Brazilians. Many thousands are being expelled to southern Mexico or into Guatemala and Honduras, or moved to western segments of the US border rather than being allowed to remain where they attempted entry.

Understandably the challenges are enormous—in Congress and in the country as a whole. However, it is the U.S. that has created or greatly contributed to the economic, climatic, and political instability in many of these Latin American and Caribbean countries. As in Afghanistan, the U.S. has the moral and legal obligation to respond humanely to this desperate cry for help.

Title 42 needs to be ended and Congress must withhold its funding. Asylum requests should be processed at the border. Detention, removal, and mistreatment of migrants must end. Families should remain together and family reunion in the US should be facilitated. Asylum seekers must have social, financial, and legal services, and humanitarian aid. TPS should be expanded where people face grave danger including Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Yemen, Cameroon, and Afghanistan. Finally, pathways to citizenship for all 11 million immigrants, especially DACA, TPS, and essential workers, must be created.

We must demand all of this, of Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration—over and over until it is achieved.

Sunny Robinson is an active member of the MAPA Latin America and Caribbean Working Group, who has been involved with human rights and justice efforts for decades, much of which focused on Central America and especially Guatemala.

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