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Over a year later and Biden still has not restored access to asylum

Photo: / AFSC

Everyone deserves to live in safety and peace. But two years ago, under President Trump, a policy called Title 42 was enacted. The statute originated with the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), but it was adopted against the advice of public health experts who found there was no public health justification for the decision. Its real purpose? Stopping immigrants from seeking safety in the U.S.

This policy and others have had a profound impact on the asylum process during President Biden’s first year in office. While there were many changes made to the immigration system at the start of Biden’s term (as explained in our previous blog), there has been little movement to restore the right to claim asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Title 42 

Title 42 is a Center for Disease Control (CDC) statute that was reworked under the Trump administration to close the U.S.- Mexico land border to asylum-seekers. But the Biden administration has made it their own by repeatedly renewing and even altering it to the detriment of those seeking protection. In March, the administration announced they will stop applying the public health policy on May 23rd.

While advocates and communities welcome this news, there is still concern about the effect of continued expulsions over the next couple of months. As of January, there have been over 1.4 million expulsions under Title 42.1 This number continues to grow despite this announcement and increased access to testing and vaccines. These expulsions are unnecessarily putting human lives in dangerous situations, as seen with the destruction of the Chaparral encampment and the abuse of Haitian migrants. Title 42 has no public health justification and only denies people their international human right to claim asylum, and it is unacceptable.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many Republican members of Congress have been spewing misinformation and opposing science-based health precautions. Now they are attempting to fabricate a border-specific public health crisis to pass legislation that would keep people from claiming asylum, possibly indefinitely. Please join us in calling on President Biden to stop all expulsions immediately and Congress to block any attempts to reinstate Title 42!

Tell President Biden and Congress: Stop all Title 42 expulsions immediately and restore the right to claim asylum!

Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) / Remain in Mexico  

Soon after taking office, President Biden attempted to end the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, also known as Remain in Mexico. This program forced thousands of asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico indefinitely for their court dates. But in August 2021, a federal court in Texas ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reinstate MPP in a decision on Biden v. Texas. In December 2021, the Biden administration formally reinstated the program and began sending individuals back to Mexico under what is being called MPP 2.0.  

While the court forced the restart of MPP, the Biden administration on its own chose to expand the program to include the entire Western Hemisphere. This affects Caribbean nationals who often face language and racial challenges while being pushed to Mexico. This change was made in the wake of political and environmental instability in Haiti and only further shows our country’s lack of effort to assist our neighbors.  

Even though MPP 2.0 is only currently being implemented at select ports of entry and with much lower enrollment numbers than the original program, it still has devastating effects for those involved, and there are plans for it to grow. The Supreme Court has recently agreed to take on the case of Biden v. Texas, and the program’s fate will be decided by this summer.  

The administration must work to bring all immigrants subject to MPP to the United States to complete their asylum process in safety—and ensure that the immigration legal system is prepared to resolve cases humanely and with due process.  

Detention 

When President Biden entered office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was detaining an average of 15,000 people in immigration jails, and that number has now reached an average of over 20,000 people within his first year.2 Additionally, the recently passed FY22 budget included funding for a daily population of 34,000 people in abusive ICE detention. These actions run counter to Biden’s campaign promises, which included ending “prolonged” detention and use of private prisons for immigration detention. 

While Biden ended the use of for-profit prisons within the criminal system, he excluded immigration jails and has even made moves to convert some closed prisons and jails into immigration detention centers.3 The continued inhumane and unnecessary use of detention within immigration must stop. People should not be subject to abuse, neglect, or even death at the hands of enforcement agencies for simply using their right to claim asylum.  

Alternatives to Detention Program (ATD) 

 While the name “Alternatives to Detention" (ATD) sounds like a hopeful solution to ending cruel detention practices, it is only a high-tech version of the same awful detention machine. ATD programs consist of the over-surveillance of recently admitted migrants using facial recognition and location tracking via ankle bracelets, cell phones, and even smart watches. These forms of monitoring cause psychological distress in addition to being discriminatory and inaccurate.  

There are currently over 180,000 people enrolled in these programs. That number doesn’t account for the thousands more people being monitored, since only the heads of households are counted.4 This is over double the number enrolled when Biden took office and ICE was recently given a $2.5 million dollar increase for ATDs in the FY22 budget. The administration is also piloting a curfew and house arrest program that will expand surveillance  by detaining migrants in their own homes.5 Detention in any form is barbaric and infringes on immigrants’ right to live and move freely. The administration must stop these harmful practices and create true alternatives to detention that are humane and support sustainable communities. 

Militarization of border communities 

The rise in surveillance technologies is not unique to ATD programs, and they have also become the preferred set of tools for border enforcement. Despite his campaign promises to stop construction of a border wall, President Biden has recycled a smart borders” vision that includes artificial intelligence, surveillance towers, drones, and even robot dogs.6  

In the recently passed FY22 budget, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) received $415.4 million dollars to fund invasive surveillance technologies, a $235 million dollar increase. With CBP having jurisdiction within 100 miles of any border, and their collusion with local law enforcement, it is likely this technology will be used to monitor an area in which approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population lives.7 The construction of a physical border wall or a “tech wall” is harmful to communities and those seeking protection, and many fear this will increase infringement of human rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.7. This administration must put an end to the militarization of our border communities.  

Today, there are still thousands of people in immigration detention. The border is closed to most asylum seekers. And immigration enforcement agencies continue to harm our communities. We must keep up the pressure on the administration to enact policies that respect the rights and dignity of all people. 

About the Author

Imani Cruz is the policy advocacy coordinator for migration at AFSC's Office of Public Policy and Advocacy. She advocates for U.S. policy that aligns with AFSC's vision to protect, respect, and uphold the human rights of all migrants.