Why Biden’s Announcement is Bad News for the People We Serve

The following is a message we shared with supporters on our email list regarding President Biden’s announcements on immigration policy on January 5, 2023. To sign up for our email list, click here. To read more about the policies, click here.

This week, I’ve been thinking of a young man from Nicaragua that the Florence Project’s Border Action Team worked with through our partnership with the Kino Border Initiative. Martín participated in peaceful demonstrations against the Nicaraguan government and was on his way to a rally honoring mothers who had lost children to state violence when he was abducted at gunpoint. He was forced into a car, and the men who abducted him broke his nose, questioned him, and threatened to kill him before taking him to an infamous underground prison to torture and interrogate him further. A day later, they pushed him off a cliff and shot at him as he fell. Miraculously, the bullets missed him, and he survived the fall. A passerby took him to the hospital, and he recovered in hiding, but when local government officials found out he had lived, the harassment and threats resumed.  

Martín had no choice but to flee for his life. He endured a perilous and dangerous journey through Mexico and arrived in Nogales, Sonora, where he received humanitarian assistance from our partners at the Kino Border Initiative. He applied for asylum and spent nearly a year in immigration detention while his case went through the courts with our assistance. Eventually, he was granted asylum, and he is now living in safety in the United States. Last week, the Biden Administration announced their plans to begin expelling Nicaraguans (as well as Cubans, Haitians, and Venezuelans) to Mexico under Title 42. If this policy had been in place when Martín was at the border, then he would never have been able to even ask for protection in the United States and would likely have been killed.  

The new policy will provide a limited, temporary pathway for some people from Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti to enter the United States, while simultaneously expanding Title 42 expulsions by expelling people from those countries to Mexico. The plan is not targeted to supporting asylum seekers and, in fact, will likely make it more difficult for many people fleeing persecution to get protection in the U.S. This policy is similar to one announced in October 2022 for people from Venezuela. Additionally, President Biden announced an expansion of expedited removal and plans to resurrect some version of Trump-era bans on asylum for people who pass through other countries on their way to the U.S. and don’t first request asylum there.  

While we do not oppose expanded parole programs for people to come to the United States with work authorization, we staunchly condemn the corresponding expansion of Title 42 expulsions and other anti-asylum policies. 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 and is no substitute for meaningful asylum processing at the border.  

Here’s how the program will work: applicants must be from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, or Haiti. They must have a current passport, identify a sponsor with lawful status in the United States, purchase air travel, and wait in their home country until background checks are completed and the paperwork has been processed. In the case of someone like Martín, this would likely be impossible. How would Martín obtain a passport or travel documents from the very government that had tried to murder him? How could he afford to wait for a bureaucratic process to be completed before fleeing for his life? What if Martín’s only friends, family members, or associates in the U.S. did not yet have lawful status, because they were waiting to have their asylum cases decided by a judge? 

Even for those individuals that do qualify for the parole programs and can wait in their home countries while the paperwork is processed, they are only guaranteed two years of temporary protection while they apply for other forms of relief. In sum, while this plan will afford some people a pathway to temporary safety, it does nothing to help the people who need the protection of the United States the most.  

We stand in solidarity with all people seeking safety in the United States and will continue to advocate for the restoration of full, regular asylum processing at the border until all people seeking protection have the chance to do so, no matter where they come from, who they know, or how they get here.