EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The incoming Biden administration has a transformative vision for addressing migration and establishing a fair, humane, and orderly immigration system, Biden’s domestic policy adviser told EFE this week.
During an interview with the Spanish news agency, Susan Rice acknowledged that while the administration will be able to take some steps to change Trump immigration policies right away, others will take time to put in place, including some that migrant advocates consider “destructive” and “cruel.”
“The situation at the border will not transform overnight due in large part to the damage done over the last four years. But we are committed to addressing it in full,” Rice said.
On Tuesday, a panel of immigrant advocates, health officials, as well as one migrant who was granted asylum, praised Biden’s new policy approach to migration, but they vowed to hold the incoming administration accountable.
Linda Rivas, executive director and managing attorney at the El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, called for Biden to immediately end the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which has forced tens of thousands of asylum-seeking migrants to wait out the asylum process in Mexico. Making matters worse, the COVID-19 has halted all court proceedings for people in the MPP program, commonly referred to as “Wait in Mexico” or “Remain in Mexico.”
Rivas described conversations with her clients from El Salvador, who since the summer of 2019 have been staying at a shelter across the border in Juarez, Mexico.
“They will be spending now their second Christmas at this shelter,” Rivas said. “We talked about all the time they had been stuck there, the dangers they face in Mexico, they recalled their kidnapping and their dangerous journey, and how they have to live in hiding to stay alive. It is a heart-wrenching second Christmas in Mexico for them since the courts on the border remain closed.”
Calling it one of the cruelest of the Trump policies, Rivas said those in the MPP program need immediate relief, adding that many just give up and return to their countries.
“When people are forced to give up their asylum claims based on unbearable conditions, many return to certain death in their countries,” she said. “Beyond restoring protection for those seeking safety in our country, we also urge that these protections must be extended.
When asked how soon into his first 100 days President-elect will rescind the MPP program, incoming National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said President-elect Biden will follow through on his commitment to end the MPP program early in his administration.
However, Sullivan conceded, putting the new policy into practice will take time.
“MPP has been a disaster from the start and has led to a humanitarian crisis in northern Mexico,” Sullivan told EFE. “The current administration dismantled much of the necessary capacity to ensure the safe and orderly processing of migrants. We need time to increase processing capacity and to do so consistent with public health requirements.”
Sullivan said that includes building up the necessary infrastructure, staffing, and procedures to increase processing capacity at ports of entry while and implementing COVID-19 protocols to protect public health.
“We will restore due process protections and begin processing those asylum seekers who were enrolled into the program in a fair, safe, and orderly manner,” he said.
The acting heads of the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have repeatedly defended the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said Trump inherited a broken and outdated system that incentivized the smuggling of aliens.
Speaking at a commemoration event for the completion of 400 miles of new border wall in late October in McAllen, Texas, Wolf said: “The Trump administration took decisive action … The only reason we haven’t reached another crisis is because of the policies and procedures this administration has put into place over the last several years.”
CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan echoed Wolf’s words, saying if MPP is ended then the country would return to “catch and release,” a policy used by the Obama administration that allowed apprehended undocumented migrants to live in the country under deferred adjudication until their immigration court hearings.
“This president has given us so much more than just tools like the wall system,” Morgan said. “The network of policies and the initiatives, like MPP, which was the driving factor that drove the end of catch-and-release. Through this network of initiatives and policies and tools, we’ve been able to regain integrity back into the immigration system. We’ve been able to close numerous loopholes being exploited by the smugglers, and quite frankly, the migrants themselves.”
On Monday, Rice said the Biden administration’s long-term immigration plan is centered on three pillars, including addressing root causes and investing billions in the countries many choose to leave; expanding lawful pathways for migration; and rethinking the asylum process.
Michelle Brané, senior director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, said her group welcomes these initial commitments from President-elect Biden and looks forward to working with his administration to ensure they become reality.
“The United States has long been a place of hope where people from around the world can seek freedom safety and protection from persecution. These protections and providing asylum are embedded in our laws as an expression of our commitment to welcoming those who come to our shores to seek safety and freedom,” Brané said. “For the last four years, Trump policies have created chaos and suffering at our border and beyond. After years of Trump chaos and Trump failures, and the cruel debasement of migrants and people seeking asylum at the border, it’s now time to turn the page and build an asylum system that is fair and orderly and that works for America.”
The immigration advocates and incoming Biden official acknowledged that turning the page on the Trump policies won’t be easy.
The incoming administration must first deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which coincidentally is the driving force behind strict immigration policies, like the implementation of Title 42, the CDC’s public health that allows border agents to expel migrants shortly after they are caught at the border, and without due process.
“President-elect Biden will be faced with many critical issues when he takes office,” Rice told EFE. “But tackling our dysfunctional immigration system is among his high priorities. Our immigration system has long needed an overhaul, and that need has only become more urgent over the last several years.”
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