Florence Project and Kino Border Initiative Condemn the Biden Administration’s Expansion of Title 42 and Other Anti-Immigrant Policies
“All of my dreams have been shattered. I don’t even have the heart to tell my mother that I was deported. When we were loaded onto the buses, I was hopeful that they were taking us to be processed for asylum. When I started seeing the highway signs to Mexico, I couldn’t believe it. The officials didn’t warn us. We didn’t receive any notice or any documents saying we were being deported. And they didn’t listen to us. I can’t go back home. If I go back to Nicaragua, I will be thrown into jail.”
– Yandel*, an asylum seeker from Nicaragua who was expelled to Nogales under Title 42 on December 28
The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (Florence Project) and the Kino Border Initiative are deeply disappointed by the Biden administration’s plans to continue to dismantle the U.S. asylum system by expanding Title 42 and resurrecting a version of illegal and inhumane Trump-era transit bans.
The Biden administration has consistently adopted practices that privilege some people seeking safety over others based on factors like nationality, existing ties to the U.S., and wealth. The right to seek asylum must be available to everyone, regardless of such factors. While this plan may very well lead to lower numbers of migrants crossing the border, it will also certainly leave people fleeing persecution with no option to seek protection for themselves and their families. Despite the administration’s rhetoric, no policy that ignores this fact can be fair or humane. Putting forward a limited parole process for a select few and calling that a balanced trade-off for eliminating asylum protection for everyone else is an affront to our legal process and our values.
Although the plan announced yesterday by President Biden will provide a narrow group of migrants from specific countries – Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti – a welcome pathway to obtain temporary, limited protection in the United States while they apply for other forms of relief, it ultimately leaves behind the most vulnerable and is a further step towards dismantling asylum as we know it.
When we consider the impact of these programs, we think of Martín, a Nicaraguan who our partnership accompanied in fighting for protection. Martín (28) participated in peaceful demonstrations against President Ortega’s increasing authoritarianism and crackdowns on dissenters. In April 2018, while on his way to a rally honoring the mothers who had lost their children to state violence, four men intercepted Martín, forcing him into a car at gunpoint. They broke his nose, questioned him about the student movement, and threatened to kill him if he didn’t provide information. They took him to El Chipote, a notorious underground prison run by the government, where he was tortured and interrogated. After a day of torture, they decided he was disposable, took him to a cliff, shoved him off the precipice, and shot at him as he fell. Amazingly, the bullets missed Martín, and he survived the fall. Hearing his screams, a passerby took him to a hospital, and Martín remained in hiding while he recovered. However, he was still in danger. A local political secretary learned he was alive and resumed the harassment and threats. In fear for his life, Martín decided to flee the country, and endured a journey through Mexico also riddled with perils and violence. After receiving humanitarian assistance at KBI, Martín applied for asylum and spent nearly a year in immigration detention fighting his asylum case with the assistance of the Florence Project until a judge decided in his favor, and he was released to live safely in Florida with his father. Martín would have never been able to access the recently announced parole program as he tried to evade his torturers and cling to life. Instead, these recent policy changes may have literally sent him to his death.
“Amidst relentless news on policies that limit access to protection at the border, yesterday’s announcement hits particularly close to home,” said Joanna Williams, Executive Director of the Kino Border Initiative, “I have friends and colleagues in Nicaragua who are being persecuted because of their affiliation to the Catholic Church and Jesuit institutions. I have sat and cried with Haitians who are afraid that their family members will be murdered. Yesterday’s announcement isn’t abstract, it means that people who I love who are in danger will have fewer options for safety.”
“We are deeply dismayed and saddened by the news that the Biden administration is not only expanding Title 42 but also other anti-asylum, anti-immigrant policies,” said Laura St. John, the Florence Project’s Legal Director. “Today’s announcement belies how deeply this administration has adopted the disingenuous rhetoric that asylum seekers at the border are doing something illegal. Seeking asylum in the United States is legal, whether one presents at a port of entry or crosses between ports of entry, and we have not only a legal but a moral obligation to protect peoples’ right to seek protection. Today’s announcement misses that entirely and further eviscerates the asylum system as we know it. This is an enormous step in the wrong direction from both a humanitarian and a policy perspective.”
“Once again, the United States government makes decisions regardless of the harm it will bring to people seeking the already limited right to asylum,” said Pedro De Velasco, Director of Education and Advocacy with the Kino Border Initiative. “In October, the administration began expelling Venezuelans seeking asylum to Mexico and labeled it a ‘success.’ Since the fall, we have seen more Venezuelans stranded in Nogales, Sonora than the rest of the year. The determination to extend the expulsions to Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Haitian people who seek protection from the violence and persecution they are desperately fleeing in their countries is cruel and inhumane. Enough already!”
The limited parole program put forward for these four countries is no substitute for reopening meaningful asylum processing at the border. To qualify for this parole program, applicants must be from one of four specific countries and be able to, among other things, identify a sponsor in the United States, purchase air travel, arrange for travel documents in their country of origin, and wait in their country until the paperwork has been processed. Asylum seekers, fleeing violence and persecution often with only what they can carry, cannot be expected to meet these requirements nor wait while their lives hang in the balance. Then, even for those individuals that do qualify for the parole programs, they are only guaranteed two years of temporary protection while they apply for other forms of relief. Under the plan, any citizen of these four countries who leaves after today and attempts to enter the U.S. will be expelled under Title 42 back to Mexico. In sum, while this plan will afford a limited number of people a pathway to temporary safety, it does nothing to help people fleeing persecution.
In fact, this plan will only return more people to harm. As Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his dissent, Title 42 misuses public health policy to block people from accessing protection, and expanding its applicability to three new countries will subject more people to the atrocious and documented abuses thousands of migrants have already suffered under the policy. The fact that this harm is targeted to only certain nationalities and not others will only add further confusion, chaos, and discrimination to an already complex border situation.
As if that alone weren’t enough, yesterday President Biden also announced that he intends to expand the use of expedited removal and plans to introduce a new iteration of a ban on asylum for people who travel through other countries to reach the United States. These are both policies which we condemn wholeheartedly and are reminiscent of harmful measures applied by the Trump administration.
The Florence Project and the Kino Border Initiative stand in solidarity with all people seeking safety in the United States. We will continue to advocate that all people seeking protection have the chance to do so, regardless of existing ties to the U.S., how they enter the U.S., or their country of origin.