Experts and Advocates Join Asylum Seekers in Calling for President-Elect Biden to Rebuild Broken Asylum System

Thursday, January 14, 2021


A recording of the call is available here

Earlier today, immigration justice advocates, asylum seekers, and those directly connected to the immigration process gathered on a press call to discuss rebuilding a broken asylum system under a new Biden administration. Trump made cruelty and exclusion his mission throughout his presidency, shutting down asylum, putting migrants in harm’s way and disinvesting in practical policies to reduce migration pressures and process asylum seekers fairly and humanely. This has included MPP (the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy), metering (forcing people to wait before being allowed to petition for asylum), defunding and closing down the court and adjudication system, increased and unnecessary utilization of detention, and turning away children and others behind the excuse of the pandemic. On the call, those gathered called on the incoming Administration to create an asylum system that is humane, functional, and free from unnecessary cruelty.

The Biden administration can and must resume processing asylum applications as quickly as possible. Jump starting this process relies simply on prioritizing the safety and dignity of those currently seeking asylum as they cannot afford to wait. Those fleeing danger and violence in particular can’t safely wait for the slow levers of bureaucracy to be pulled. The Biden administration can begin making changes on Day 1. Not only does Biden have the moral imperative to address this crisis, but a legal one as well. Throughout the Trump presidency, courts have ruled time and again that the xenophobic and restrictive policies put into place violated our laws and years of precedent. Now the Biden administration must step in and take decisive action to remedy the current crisis. 

Eleanor Acer, Senior Director, Refugee Protection, Human Rights First (Moderator), said, 

“As  the Biden administration takes office, we look forward to the end to the chaos, fear-mongering, illegality, family separations and cruelty and a shift to fair, orderly, humanitarian management and policies that uphold U.S. refugee laws, treaties and values. While undoing the damage inflicted by the Trump administration will take a little time, the Biden administration will, we would hope and urge, transfer people turned away to danger under Trump administration policies to safety in this country as swiftly as possible and, from its first days, process asylum cases in compliance with U.S. laws and treaties. The Biden administration should use measures recommended by leading public health experts to process cases in ways that safeguard the health of asylum seekers and public health, and should not adopt the Trump administration’s discredited misuse of public health authority to expel asylum seekers to danger.” 

Karen Musalo, CGRS Director and Professor of Law at UC Hastings Law said, 

“The past four years have left our asylum system in tatters and endangered thousands of courageous people seeking safety at our border. At the same time, targeted violence, corruption, and devastating natural disasters continue to force people to flee their homes and apply for protection in the U.S. The Biden administration now has the opportunity – and the moral obligation – to turn the page on the chaos and cruelty of the Trump era and address the urgent humanitarian needs at our nation’s doorstep. As a first step, President-Elect Biden must act swiftly to terminate dangerous policies like ‘Remain in Mexico,’ resume fair asylum processing at the border, and end the inhumane detention of people seeking refuge. We’re ready to work with the new administration to build our asylum system back better. And with lives on the line, there’s no time to waste.”

“Ray,” from Cuba, who was granted asylum after being placed in MPP, said, 

“I didn’t know the place, I didn’t know the area. You find yourself always looking over your shoulder because you don’t know what’s going on, you hear that people are getting kidnapped all the time. You hear the stories of people getting randomly kidnapped, the people you saw walking around. Sometimes you’ll never see them again. And three to four months later, you’d find out that they’ve been kidnapped or they’ve been forced to work. These policies force thousands of people to live in the camp that was created there. There are around three thousand people forced to live in tents by the river with no actual infrastructure with no support by the government, either the U.S. or Mexico. Anything given was from a nonprofit. I have friends that were kidnapped because they were walking around and they happened to look different than the normal people who were walking around and they just kidnapped you and asked for ransom from your families in the U.S. You have to get used to the Mexican police, who are quite corrupt and very aggressive with immigrants. I was extorted for money a couple times. You have to get used to the police being so heavily armed. One time I was at home and they came knocking on the door and they tried to take money since those people didn’t have papers. I opened the window and I had my phone in my hand and a police guy pointed his machine gun at my face asking if I was recording him. They do things like that all the time. How is this a protection protocol? How does this protect me in any sort of way? I was one of the lucky ones that was able to get across.” 

Guerline Jozef, Executive Director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance said, 

“This system has destroyed the lives of asylum seekers. As an immigrant from Haiti it hurts my heart to see how we allow our government to enact and implement those types of systems. Black immigrants have been stuck at the border for four and a half years. MPP creates bottlenecks for immigrants, especially Black immigrants. Forcing immigrants to wait in other countries as they travel to the United States is dangerous, these are not safe places. People from these countries are escaping extreme violence, and Black immigrants are unfortunately targeted more. There have been reports of kidnapping, murder, and lost lives because of MPP. Policies like MPP destroy the lives of asylum seekers, and before the election alone more than 1,300 people were deported including babies less than one years old. We are asking the upcoming administration not to continue these policies so that people can properly apply for asylum and be able to go through the system. Immigration is a Black issue. Title 42 was created not only to stop people from seeking asylum, but also is destroying lives along the way. On day one, we are not only requesting, but demanding an end to Title 42.”

Gretchen Kuhner, Director, Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración (IMUMI), in Mexico City, said,

“The Migration Protection Protocols, or the Remain in Mexico policy, is an illegal, unfair and cruel policy that has left over 27,000 asylum seekers waiting for their U.S. court dates in some of the most dangerous cities along the northern border of Mexico.   Thousands of asylum seekers have been victims to extortion, assault, kidnapping and sexual violence with no access to police protection by Mexican authorities.  Coordination between the U.S. and Mexican governments has made this possible — both governments are responsible for blocking people’s right to seek protection from the violence and insecurity in their home countries.  The Biden administration has the opportunity to restore asylum at the border and to work with the Mexican government to strengthen protection in the region, rather than de-humanizing families who are fleeing from violence.”

Kennji Kizuka, Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst, Refugee Protection, Human Rights First, said,

“The government has used the pandemic as a pretext to block and expel asylum seekers at the southern border to the countries they’ve fled, as well as Mexico, under an CDC order that the agency’s own experts refused to sign off on. Eliminating asylum processing at ports of entry has pushed some to take dangerous journeys away from official crossing points. For instance, a Cuban asylum seeker has been missing, and presumed dead, since July 2020 when he attempted to cross the border in Texas because U.S. ports of entry were closed to asylum seekers. During the pandemic, the administration has used MPP to return even more people to Mexico, particularly Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. Those waiting for their MPP immigration court hearings, which have been cancelled since March 2020, include about 7,500 Cubans, 6,500 Hondurans, 4,500 Nicaraguans, 2,000 Salvadorans, 1,500 Venezuelans, and about 1,000 Nicaraguans according to data from TRAC. It doesn’t have to be this way. CBP can swiftly process asylum seekers in an orderly way, including those who have been placed in MPP who already have pending court hearings, and release them to waiting family and friends.”