Title 42 has ended, but U.S. Asylum Policy is Still Unwelcoming

On May 11, the Biden administration lifted the Title 42 rule that has governed U.S. asylum policy for more than three years. Title 42 was a COVID era policy that excluded migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. While Title 42 is changing, the administration’s approach to migration is not. The administration continues to pair expanded migration pathways with strict crackdowns on crossing the U.S.-Mexico border away from official ports of entry.

Immigration Policy Changes

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new rule that would bar most migrants who attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border from asylum. Under the rule, migrants who cross the border and who have not sought asylum in a third country they passed through to reach the U.S. are presumed ineligible for asylum.

The rule imposes unfair restrictions on the right to seek asylum, which is protected by both U.S. and international law. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, an asylum seeker’s immigration status should not impact their ability to receive asylum. This regulation conditions asylum on the means by which an individual arrived in the United States, directly contradictory to the Refugee Act.

The ban is being implemented along with other policy changes, like replacing expulsions under Title 42 with expulsions under Title 8 of the U.S. Code. Title 8 is the authority under which migrants were expelled from the United States before Title 42. Migrants removed under Title 8 are barred from re-entering the United States for at least 5 years. Together, these policy changes will send people in need of protection back to the dangerous conditions that they were trying to flee.

These policies are part of a larger strategy that misdirects government resources from a humanitarian response to enforcement and militarization. Border communities are inundated with law and immigration enforcement officers. The Biden administration is sending 1,500 active-duty military personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border.  This is another example of the administration continuing to focus on punitive measures while shelters in border communities are full, leaving families homeless and hungry.

The administration argues that they have expanded migration pathways through programs like humanitarian parole. However, humanitarian parole is a temporary status that is not available to migrants from all countries. It is also not accessible to many people who migrate to the United States for their own survival. Recipients must have passports, sponsors in the United States, the ability to purchase plane tickets, and the ability to wait for their applications to be approved. While humanitarian parole can provide welcome relief to those who can qualify, it does not meet the great need for equitable migration pathways.

The Humanitarian Crisis on the Border

In recent months, we have seen the tragic consequences of U.S. asylum restrictions. In March, a fire at a detention center in Ciudad Juarez killed forty people. The fire was a direct consequence of punitive immigration policies.  Through policies like the Migrant Protection Protocol, Title 42, and now the combination of the asylum ban and Title 8 expulsions, the U.S. sends asylum seekers back to Mexico, where most report they do not feel safe. Mexico has increasingly placed migrants in detention facilities, including the one where the fire broke out. Despite the consequences of these policies, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has praised Mexico and other Latin American countries for increasing immigration enforcement.

The asylum ban has not alleviated the atrocious conditions for migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. While proponents argue that decreased border crossings are a sign of the policy’s success, migrants continue to wait in overcrowded shelters to be granted appointments with border patrol. Last weekend, over 1,000 migrants found themselves detained by CBP in camps outdoors with inadequate food, shelter and sanitation.  Migrants in those camps told researchers that CBP officers ignored them when they stated their intention to apply for asylum.

Getting Involved in Advocacy

These policy changes come amidst unjust attacks on migrants with deadly consequences. Anti-immigration rhetoric ignores the complex reality that many immigrants to the United States are fleeing humanitarian crises, state-sponsored violence, and other terrible situations. Instead of addressing the condition in sending countries, which are often caused by U.S. policies, like in Cuba, the House of Representatives passed a harmful proposal that would further weaken the right to asylum. And hateful acts of violence, like an attack at a shelter in Brownsville, TX last week, are fueled by anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Christians are called to challenge harmful policies and rhetoric that lead to violence against our neighbors. We are grateful for the Presbyterians who answered our call to submit public comments opposing the asylum ban when it was first announced. Along with our faith and secular partners, we left comments pushing push the administration to welcome the stranger. Though the rule was implemented, these comments were still a bold witness against an unjust law. You can get more involved in immigration advocacy through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s Migration Accompaniment Ministries and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. The Office of Public Witness also publishes action alerts with tools to contact Congress about asylum and many other issues.

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