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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Migrant advocates say Biden asylum policy will worsen situation

Immigrant and civil rights groups plan to bring legal challenges to the policy effectively blocking people from receiving asylum at the southern U.S. border.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Immigrant rights groups plan to mount legal challenges to President Joe Biden’s recent restrictions on asylum-seekers at the southern U.S. border and say the president's executive order will only make the situation worse.

Biden has faced widespread criticism this week over the measure to effectively end asylum for everyone crossing the southern U.S. border until the number of migrants encountered drops significantly. The policy has been likened to those pursued unsuccessfully by former President Donald Trump and seen as out of step with Biden’s campaign promises.

Marisa Limon Garza, executive director of the Texas-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said the policy is “no different from what we experienced under Trump.”

“Enforcing strict and punitive restrictions on who can seek protection and even shutting down the system is not a serious policy proposal,” she said. “It’s instead a cynical attempt to cater to the politics of racists and white supremacists.”

The executive action bars noncitizens who cross the southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum in virtually all circumstances once the number of illegal crossings exceeds 2,500 people a day. The cap mirrors the number in proposed bipartisan legislation that has failed multiple times to pass Congress.

Officials said that number is already a reality, so the ban took effect immediately. They noted that the restrictions are temporary and can be lifted once the number of migrants crossing reaches an average below 1,500 for seven consecutive days.

Azadeh Erfani, a policy analyst with the National Immigrant Justice Center, said the quota was an “arbitrary number” that has been exceeded in 110 of the past 296 months.

“This is a very low threshold,” she said.

Migrant advocates say the regulation will just force desperate people to take increasingly desperate and dangerous paths to try to cross the border illegally.

“We know that when safely presenting at a port of entry is not an option, people take risks,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the California-based Immigrant Defenders Law Center. “This danger that we are putting people in, that the Biden administration is putting people in, it’s not necessary. There’s other options. There’s other solutions.”

Over the past 18 months, Biden has tried to take tougher actions as the border has become a mounting campaign issue. He reinstated Trump-era expedited asylum screenings that allow for quicker expulsion under different laws, established immigration processing centers in Latin America to intercept potential migrants before they reach the U.S. and had to surge 1,500 active-duty troops to reduce the burden on Border Patrol agents.

Biden’s latest measure earned bipartisan condemnation from Republicans who say it’s not tough enough and Democrats who call it too harsh. Immigrant advocacy groups have universally come down on the latter opinion, although not all Democrats opposed it.

“[I]t's very important to me that people can come here when they meet the requirements to have an asylum claim,” Arizona Senator Mark Kelly told PBS. “But what's also important is that this is safe for Border Patrol, for CBP officers, for people who live in these southern border communities. And over time, it has not been a safe situation.”

The ACLU already said it plans to sue to block the policy. Richard Caldarone, a senior litigation attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center, said his organization is also going to challenge it.

“We have seen this movie before,” Caldarone said. “In fact, we’ve seen it three times before.”

Twice under Trump and once already under Biden, Caldarone said, federal courts have ruled that similar measures were illegal because they violated the U.S.’s asylum statute and officials didn’t allow a proper public comment period.

Caldarone characterized the executive order as the “latest incarnation of the federal government’s extended campaign against the rights of people fleeing persecution, torture and severe violence.”

While Biden unveiled the policy through executive action, it will actually be enforced through a joint regulation of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

Biden administration officials touted the move as a necessary action as Congress has failed to pass immigration reform. They also highlighted that 750,000 people have been removed from the border in the past year.

“The tough measures we announced today are no substitute for much-needed reforms that are only possible through legislation,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said earlier this week.

“We continue to call on Congress to act. Only Congress can provide our department with additional statutory authorities that would actually create a functioning immigration system, and only Congress can provide our personnel … with the resources they need to ensure our border is secure and the system works.”

The Biden administration has also touted its CBP One app as the proper way for asylum-seekers to schedule an appointment to make their case. But the Customs and Border Protection mobile application has frequently crashed and migrants have to wait months for an appointment.

Chelsea Sachau, who is stationed in Sonora, Mexico, assisting migrants for the Arizona-based Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, said asylum-seekers don’t have the time to wait for an appointment if they’re fleeing violence.

“This rule adopts an approach that is beyond just the traditional analogy of a carrot or a stick approach,” she said. “The government is offering my clients a moldy decaying carrot — the CBP One app — or a very large baton crashing down on them — rapid deportation.”

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Categories / Government, Immigration, Politics

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