EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The Biden administration is shutting the door on thousands of asylum-seekers who show up at America’s doorstep after long, dangerous treks through other countries, immigration advocates say.
That’s because the Jan. 5 announcement of a new remote asylum application process for Haitians, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans includes a notice of proposed rulemaking declaring ineligible those who fail to seek protection first in countries through which they traveled.
That is the equivalent of a travel ban that the Trump administration tried to implement but was stopped by courts, the advocates said in recent calls with reporters.
“We welcome the engagement of President Biden on immigration, opening legal avenues of opportunity for up to 300,000 citizens of Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua,” said Vanessa Cardenas, executive director of America’s Voice. “(But) we are deeply disturbed by other aspects of the Biden administration’s plan, most notably an upcoming rule that would make it harder for people to gain asylum and ends up being, for all practical purposes, an extension of the Trump-Stephen Miller asylum ban.”
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrant Rights Project, said the group took Trump to court over a previous migrant transit ban and won.
“It is clear you need an agreement with another country. On top of that, there needs to be a demonstration in that other country there will be a full and fair opportunity for asylum,” Gelernt said on Friday. “We don’t think anything the Biden administration has said about the transit ban would make it legal. We believe it is still illegal and we will go immediately to court if the Biden administration enacts.”
On Monday, a coalition of 165 faith-based organizations sent a letter to Biden and top administration officials decrying what they consider an asylum ban.
“We write with grave concern about the forthcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will set in motion an asylum ban in the form of a rule that bars people from asylum if they enter without inspection or do not seek protection countries of transit,” the letter signed by groups including American Friends Service Committee and the National Council of Churches. “We urge you to not issue the NPRM and to instead work vigorously to ensure people seeking safety have access to a fair, dignified and efficient asylum process.”
Biden’s White House has rejected comparisons to Trump when it comes to humane immigration policies.
Cardenas said advocates “applaud” some of Biden’s immigration policies and disagree on others.
“After an election season in which Republican extremism was a liability, it makes no sense for Democrats to mimic such a stark example of the Trump-Miller cruelty,” she said. “Rather than erecting barriers to asylum, we should be efficiently processing asylum claims, we should be protecting people and their due-process rights. We should be investing in resettlement, establishing legal channels and addressing what is really forcing people to move.”
In the El Paso, Texas-Juarez, Mexico corridor, Dylan Corbett said many migrants have no other means but to travel by land.
“We continue to see the arrival of Venezuelans, we continue to see expulsions of vulnerable persons with compelling, credible asylum claims,” said Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute. “Juarez today looks a lot like it did under the previous administration. […] In El Paso, things are complicated by the significant number of unprocessed persons, especially Venezuelans who are now literally trapped in our community, who have no option at all to make asylum claims or normalize status.”
He was referring to migrants camping around Sacred Heart Catholic Church in South El Paso and to others in the city who fear they will be detained at highway checkpoints outside the city.
Corbett said he’s still appalled at how far the Trump administration “moved the goalposts” on immigration and refugees and hopes the Biden administration does not go in that direction.
“The solution isn’t implementing a model whose metric of success is how many people we keep out rather than how many people we can provide protection to,” he said. “Two years into this administration, that is exactly the metric this administration is pursuing.”
Corbett and other advocates continue to urge Biden to work with the leaders of other countries to address the root causes of migration.
He also called on the federal government to support advocacy organizations that have stepped up when immigration agencies are overwhelmed and begin releasing migrants on parole into the community.
“Border communities and non-government organizations know we can do this when we have the resources and cooperation of the federal government. We know we can meet the challenges of the moment. That’s what it means to be a country that supports human rights,” Corbett said.