Biden administration puts asylum seekers in harm’s way
Glenn Fawcett/U.S. Customs and Border Protection, via Wikimedia Commons
A young person seeks asylum at the U.S./Mexico border.

Biden administration puts asylum seekers in harm’s way

We work with 20 people seeking safety here in Brattleboro — people facing torture, government persecution, gang violence, or rape in their countries of origin. Under new rules, three quarters of them would not have been permitted to do so.

BRATTLEBORO — Joe Biden came to office in 2021 vowing to undo the disastrous and cruel immigration policies of the Trump administration. Instead, he has embraced and expanded them.

“We’re going to restore our moral standing in the world and our historic role as a safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers,” the president said on the campaign trail in 2020.

But on Jan. 5, the Biden administration announced that it will double down on its support for Stephen Miller’s baby, Title 42 — an obscure element of the public health code used by the Trump Administration to prevent people from accessing their right to asylum at the southern border.

Long lambasted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and by immigration experts as unnecessary and illegal, Title 42 has subjected a reported 13,000 migrants to murder, torture, kidnapping, or rape in the last two years alone.

After years of public pressure, the measure is something the Biden administration has made moves to overturn. But when those moves were temporarily blocked by contested court orders, the administration chose instead to use it to continue putting tens of thousands of people in harm’s way.

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The administration’s announcement detailed its plans to expel 30,000 additional asylum seekers from Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Cuba to Mexico per month in addition to rejecting all asylum claims from people who traveled through Mexico and other countries without attempting to seek asylum there prior to arriving in the United States. (This ban was found to be illegal by U.S. courts when the Trump administration tried it, which apparently isn’t enough of a reason to take it off the table.)

The Biden administration is forcing people to seek asylum in a country from which thousands of people every year flee to seek asylum elsewhere, which cannot grant them protection from gang violence, gender violence, kidnapping, or torture.

“These policies violate domestic and international law and actively put asylum seekers in harm’s way,” said the Center for Victims of Torture in a statement.

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In an effort to put a humanitarian mask over these violations, the Biden administration announced a concurrent plan for a mini-parole program modeled on a program offered in October to a select number of Venezuelans.

The plan immediately met with resounding condemnation from the immigrant support community, with Human Rights First reminding us that the parole plan for Venezuelans is “a humanitarian disgrace.”

The new plan offers a chance at parole for 30,000 asylum seekers a month from four select countries: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Haiti. Under the plan, asylum seekers can apply for parole by way of a cell phone app — if they already have available a passport, a U.S. sponsor who commits to two years of financial support, and international airfare.

Access to all three of these prerequisites is limited to people of relative means, effectively shutting out the poor from the chance to save their own lives.

“People fleeing for their safety are often unable to obtain passports or wait in their countries of origin while their applications are processed, particularly those who are fleeing government persecution,” said Human Rights Watch.

Moreover, given that 60% of current asylum seekers come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — none of which are on the list of eligible countries — Biden’s new policy is essentially an asylum ban levied on the people most often seeking safety.

For a man who lauded himself publicly for ending Trump’s so-called Muslim Ban, the move is particularly repugnant.

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Even those few asylum seekers admitted by way of the new program will be shunted into the broken and backlogged asylum system. Thousands of Afghans admitted into the country on similar grounds over a year ago, including many of our neighbors and colleagues, are still in legal limbo. Adding more people to those rolls does nothing to advance immigration justice in this country.

At the Community Asylum Seekers Project, we work with 20 asylum seekers building new lives in Brattleboro. Each one of them faced torture, government persecution, gang violence, or rape in their countries of origin.

Under the new rules, three quarters of them would not have been permitted to seek safety in the United States.

All of them left family members and loved ones behind who are facing similar harms at this very moment, blocked now from accessing their legal right to seek safety in this country.

The administration’s parole program is a policy of smoke and mirrors, wearing an ill-fitting costume of humanitarianism while dispossessing and endangering tens of thousands of people for political gain.

Here in Vermont, we’re trying to open our doors. When will our government get out of the way?

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