Short-Changing Asylum Seekers Must Stop
A Biden plan should not deprive them of a day in court.
When Rosario went to the police station in southern Mexico to file a report about a criminal gang continuing to threaten her family, she says an officer advised: “Your best bet is to leave.”
And that’s what her family did, in late August. The twenty-four-year old Rosario, her husband, two children, two brothers, and her parents fled their hometown. They have joined thousands of others waiting in the Mexican town of Nogales, bordering Arizona, for a chance to seek refuge in the United States.
“Will we meet migrant families and individuals with cruelty and deterrence, or will we meet them with the humanity and due process that they deserve?”
“We are human beings, and we need asylum,” Rosario tells The Progressive in a telephone interview. Like many asylum seekers, she wants to be identified by her first name only.
Crammed in a single rented room, Rosario’s family is struggling to survive, helped by a free daily food pickup at the Kino Border Initiative’s Migrant Outreach Center. Adding to Rosario’s sense of vulnerability are the shouts she hears from local residents: “Go back from where you came.”
This cloud of uncertainty—and danger—hovers over Rosario’s family because President Joe Biden is unwilling to rescind the Trump border closures for asylum seekers.
Another peril: the court-ordered restart of Remain in Mexico. This is a program—established under the Trump Administration—that requires asylum seekers to stay on the Mexican side of the border while they await resolution of their cases.
Not only have the courts revived this punitive program, but Biden has expanded its reach.
No wonder there’s disappointment and frustration with Biden’s asylum policy, at a time when Republicans want to get rid of asylum altogether.
“Will we meet migrant families and individuals with cruelty and deterrence, or will we meet them with the humanity and due process that they deserve?” asked Women’s Refugee Commission senior policy adviser Ursela Ojeda, at a recent news conference denouncing the Remain in Mexico policy.
It’s a good question.
Biden’s border plan, drafted by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, would bring on 800 new asylum officers and new staff for hearings. But it’s a fix to a broken immigration system that advocates such as the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program say would deny many asylum seekers “their day in court.”
“I was asking for mercy. I didn’t want to go back to my country because they’d kill me.”
The plan, which recently concluded its public comment period, doesn’t require Congressional approval because it’s a package of regulations and procedures. Implementation, according to The Washington Post, is expected in the spring.
It would be a key part of the revamping of asylum at the border that would have asylum seekers stay at government sites. Various services would be provided while they await the outcome of their cases.
At a recent Senate Judiciary oversight hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas referred to Biden’s plan as a way to “streamline” the asylum process with “the prompt approval of those who qualify and the prompt removal of those who do not.” Republicans tried to pummel Mayorkas with inane statements, with Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, blurting out: “If you want to talk about getting to root causes, build a wall.”
Fundamentally, the Biden plan would replace immigration judges with asylum officers in deciding the fate of many asylum seekers. It would apply to adults and families detained by Border Patrol.
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