PHARR, Texas (Border Report) — Thousands of asylum advocates and organizations, as well as lawmakers, have written to the federal government to oppose what they call a “travel ban policy” that the Biden administration wants to take effect in two months.
The Welcome With Dignity campaign, which represents over 100 civil rights and migrant advocacy organizations, reports that 32,813 public comments were submitted prior to Monday’s deadline in response to the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security’s “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” proposal announced Feb. 23 in the Federal Register.
“The comment period is over on Biden’s asylum ban: it’s not the end of our work to defend the right to seek #asylum,” the group tweeted Tuesday.
At least 65 organizations sent statements during the shortened 30-day commenting period opposing the proposed asylum rules that are expected to be implemented when Title 42 is lifted in May.
Title 42 is a public health policy that has prevented asylum-seekers for three years from crossing the border in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Under the Circumvention of Lawful Pathways proposal, migrants would be required “to seek asylum or other protection in countries through which they travel.”
DHS and DOJ say the measure would be “temporary” and would help to reduce “reliance by migrants on dangerous human smuggling networks, protecting against extreme overcrowding in border facilities, and helping to ensure that the processing of migrants seeking protection in the United States is done in an effective, humane, and efficient manner,” according to the Federal Register.
But migrant advocates are calling it a travel ban, and say it is inhumane.
“This is not a political issue. It’s a matter of life and death for many of those traveling to our borders to seek asylum,” the nonprofit South Texas migrant advocacy group Team Brownsville wrote on their Facebook page.
“Gutting asylum protections in the U.S. will hurt vulnerable people who have survived extreme violence and persecution, and will put their lives at risk,” Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Executive Director Avril Benoît said.
“MSF is extremely concerned about the devastating impacts this sweeping rule would have on the physical and mental health of people seeking safety. The implementation of the rule would only exacerbate humanitarian needs and unsafe conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border and in other locations on the migration route,” MSF submitted in a letter to the Federal Register proposal.
“Policies like an asylum transit ban are, in effect, a ban on black, brown, Indigenous, and poor people,” Welcome With Dignity Campaign Manager Bilal Askaryar tweeted.
The Welcome With Dignity campaign wrote in their letter: “The agencies have titled this rule ‘Circumvention of Lawful Pathways,’ insinuating that people seeking asylum at our southern border are somehow evading existing lawful pathways to protection. In fact, for over three years, it is the U.S. government that has circumvented its legal obligations to refugees, implementing a series of policies that have choked off access to asylum at the southern border. The proposed rule continues down that dangerous path, amounting to an asylum ban that would prevent most people fleeing persecution from lawfully exercising their right to seek asylum.”
The organization also criticized the CBP One app, which asylum seekers must log into to request an asylum interview at a U.S. port of entry through U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Migrant advocates tell Border Report the CBP One app glitches and often is inaccessible in Mexican border towns where Wi-Fi is spotty.
The proposed immigration asylum changes “favors asylum seekers from wealthy and predominantly white countries who have the ability to reach the United States directly by plane,” the Welcome With Dignity campaign wrote to federal officials. “Seeking asylum is legal, no matter how people reach our border, what countries they pass through on their way, and whether or not they can book an appointment on an inaccessible and dysfunctional smartphone app.”
Ten U.S. Democratic senators, led by U.S. Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, and Alex Padilla, of California, also submitted a letter as part of public commenting, urging the Biden administration to rescind the proposal, which they say “would erect multiple new barriers to asylum protections for most refugees who come to the United States by way of the U.S.-Mexico border.”
“This rule violates our legal obligations to protect refugees fleeing persecution and usurps congressional authority by adding unlawful bars to asylum eligibility,” they wrote.
DHS estimates that migrant encounters could rise to 11,000 to 13,000 per day if new immigration policies are not enacted when Title 42 expires on May 11.