The Guardian • Issue #2045

President Biden’s new discriminatory immigration policy

Immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles, California on May Day, 2006. Photo: Jonathan McIntosh – Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.5).

On 2nd February 2023, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that of the 998 children detained at the US-Mexico, border under the President Trump administration, 148 will be reunified with families. Three weeks later the President Biden administration proposed a near-total asylum ban along the southern border. The new rule will deny asylum to migrants who have not applied for protection in the countries they passed through, on their way to the United States. It will also reject those who entered the US illegally.

Vice President Kamala Harris announced a fund of US$1 billion, from private companies, to address the “root causes” of mass migration from Central America. The US government does not consider the US political and military interventions in Central American countries in the 1980s to be “root causes” (see “US Imperialism and the Gangs of LA,” The Guardian 6th February 2023). This new policy requires asylum seekers to use a smartphone app to apply for asylum at an official border crossing, assuming that applicants can afford a smart phone.

In his presidential campaign, Biden promised a more humane approach to immigration than President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy and Title 42. This federal law deals with public health, social welfare and civil rights, to keep communicable diseases out of the US. The law was originally used in 1929 to keep ships from China and the Philippines from entering US ports during an outbreak of meningitis. The Trump government invoked Title 42 to expel migrants from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua to Mexico. The strict immigration policy, first proposed during the Trump administration, was then deemed unlawful and has been repeatedly blocked by federal courts. Biden’s new policy will take effect just as Trump’s Title 42 comes to an end. Since taking office, the Biden administration’s migration policies have become increasingly restrictive. Trump used Title 42 to deport migrants without them being able to apply for asylum. More than two million people have been expelled under this law.

Danilo Zak, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at Church World Services (CWS) argues that by barring certain individuals from accessing asylum, Title 42 not only disregards their safety but fails to consider asylum as a basic human right. It only allows the privileged few to migrate to the USA. It will “wreak havoc on the lives of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children.” Bilal Askaryar of  Welcome With Dignity finds that the new policy effectively bans “Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor people.”

The Border Rights Project, Al Otro Lado, is a legal organisation that works on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Director Nicole Ramos, says the US government “erects countless barriers for those fleeing persecution.” The government limits the right to seek asylum and instead funds foreign armed forces to brutally beat back migrants as they attempt to make their way to the US-Mexico border.” The Biden government ensures that thousands of refugees will “end up dying on our doorstep – all while pretending that we are a champion of human rights and the ‘land of the free.’ ”

Numerous human rights organisations have condemned the new rules. Keren Zwick, Director of Litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center, told NBC News, “it would be invalid like the similar Trump administration rules that were found unlawful by federal courts.” Robin Philips, Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, says “International law and federal statutes are clear, the US cannot return people to face persecution, torture, or gross human rights violations. Banning people from seeking asylum threatens individual lives and dismantles the most important safety net for people fleeing oppression – people the US has long sworn to protect.” It violates, “the spirit and text of the Refugee Convention, the Refugee Act, and our US moral promise to do right by those in need.”

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, says that it violates President Biden’s own campaign promises, as it requires, “persecuted people to first seek protection in countries with no functioning asylum systems themselves … a ludicrous and life-threatening proposal.” According to Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group, it leaves people in a bureaucratic limbo and forces them “to apply for asylum in countries where their lives may still be very much in danger, and which offer slow-moving access to asylum for only a fraction of those who desperately need it.” The Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, disputes these claims and says the new policy is not similar to that of the Trump administration.

Further Reading:

Isabella Dias. 21-2-2023. “Ludicrous and Life-Threatening.” Mother Jones. “Ludicrous and Life-Threatening” – Biden Just Announced a Transit Ban for Migrants

#WelcomeWithDignity Campaign. 23-2-2023. Press Release. “Biden’s Asylum Ban Will Return Refugees to Danger and Death.”

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