Failing to Fix the Immigrations Crisis, Biden is Restricting Access to Asylum Instead

President Joe Biden ran for office with promises to take a humane approach to immigration and the crisis at the southern border, an approach opposite to that of the previous Trump administration. However, Biden’s recent policies are drawing the question of whether these promises were to appeal to the democratic base. A suite of policies on immigration announced by the Biden administration early this year closely resemble those of the Trump administration, which were vastly criticized by human rights and immigration advocates. Biden’s proposed policies directly contradict the promises he made while campaigning and constitute a major setback for the immigration system. 

On Tuesday, February 26th, the Biden administration announced a new policy that would attempt to manage the crisis at the southern border that the record number of migrants entering the country had caused. The legislation would bar migrants who have traveled through other countries (but did attempt to seek asylum there) from seeking asylum once they arrived in the United States. The hope is that this law will encourage migrants to seek asylum in other countries that they travel through, rather than in the U.S. Evidently, Biden is attempting to divert and restrict migrants coming into the country, instead of improving the avenues for seeking asylum that are currently in place. 

Biden’s policies make it easier to rapidly deport those who did not first seek asylum in a country they passed through, and they also make it so those who did not notify border authorities through a mobile app called CBP One are also at risk of deportation. Such a decision is hypocritical and counterintuitive, as the app has continuously proved to be ineffective and unable to handle the thousands of people attempting to schedule asylum hearings and appointments with officials. Every day, families and individuals try and fail to make appointments through the app, but are instead stuck waiting for weeks at detention centers at the border. It is unethical for the Biden administration to turn away migrants just because they are unable to navigate the subpar resources they are provided, or to require migrants to have access to cell phones or phone plans at all while traveling for long periods of time. 

The proposed policy would take effect in May 2023 and last two years, paralleling the current policy known as Title 42, which expires in May and has been in effect since the spring of 2020. Upon examination, the two policies have much in common. When running for office, Biden promised to end Title 42, but is instead now expanding on it. The COVID-era policy was introduced in March 2020, giving the government the ability to grant emergency action regarding immigration during the pandemic. The policy allowed officials at the border to send migrants back to Mexico quickly after crossing the border without first allowing them to go through the asylum process. The Trump administration relied on Title 42 to reduce border crossings due to what his administration claimed were “COVID-19 precautions under the pretext of national security. However, the policy has proved to be ineffective and counterintuitive, as it has created high recidivism rates. This refers to when those who are hastily turned away at the border continuously try again and again to seek asylum even when they continue to be met with failure and pushback. Title 42 has allowed officials to deport migrants before first having an asylum hearing, which they are entitled to, but migrants fleeing brutal conditions and violence do not stop easily. Since they are given no alternative option, they continue to cross the border. Biden’s proposed “transit ban” denies asylum to people who first passed through a third country and did not seek it there. The transit ban along with expedited removal policies make no effort to restore the right to seek asylum as Title 42 ends. It seems that Biden is attempting to replace the older policy with a newer, slightly different version without actually attempting to find long-term solutions to the crisis at hand.

Border towns and officials working in them are overwhelmed with the record-high rates of border crossings that Title 42 and recidivism have created. These small communities have insufficient resources and are not equipped to handle this crisis. The federal government and Biden administration are partly to blame for this, but are putting the responsibility on border states and towns to find the solutions. The border city of El Paso has certainly felt the strain from the record-high numbers of migrants coming across the border. Mario D’Agostino, deputy city manager of El Paso, is seeking immediate solutions to the issues. “There’s got to be a more orderly fashion when we’re seeing numbers of this size,” he says, asking for alternative solutions to be looked at besides Title 42. Under Title 42, 2 million migrants have been turned away and denied asylum. The Biden Administration claims that the new policies will “help ensure secure, orderly, and humane processing of migrants once Title 42 eventually lifts.” While Title 42 does end in May 2023, the new policies that will follow in its place will serve the same purpose and are a band aid solution to a much bigger problem. 

“Expanded access to legal migration and protection pathways in the United States” is included in the Biden administration’s immigration goals released in 2021. Biden is still far from doing that with recent immigration policies. Instead of providing appropriate alternative avenues for those seeking asylum, the proposed policies limit access to asylum. Recently, Biden appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to oversee diplomatic efforts with the Northern Triangle (a term used to refer to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) to tackle the crisis at the southern border. The administration has said that Harris’s responsibility is to address the root cause of the crisis and find long-term solutions in a $4 billion plan. Harris has goals of creating regional jobs, ensuring more digital access, and increasing farmers’ incomes. These are ambitious and much-needed goals, but they are attempting to prevent immigration instead of improving the pathways to asylum. Additionally, there has recently been an increase in migrants from alternative regions. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that in December 2022 77,043 migrants came to the U.S. from Cuba or Nicaragua. The Biden and Harris administration needs to expand their scope of focus on immigration issues in Latin American regions. 

Moreover, the Biden administration is attempting to address the causes of migration while blatantly ignoring the role the U.S. has played in creating these conditions of instability and violence in Latin America. U.S. interventions in Latin America going back decades have created many of the problems these countries face today that have driven millions of people to flee. Starting over a century ago, under President Theodore Roosevelt, the U.S. took the role of “regional policeman” in Latin America. Roosevelt was concerned with the crisis in Venezuela and turned to military intervention to restore stability in the region. After that, the United States increasingly used military force to act as “international police” in Latin American countries and support military coups. U.S. policies of military intervention and neoliberalism have created instability in the regions. 

Candidly, accepting refugees from Latin America is a matter of reparations. Current discourse around the immigration crisis can not continue to ignore the U.S.’s role in creating these problems, but that is precisely what the Biden Administration is doing. A report released at the end of 2022 outlines that the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America are due to natural disasters, socio-economic issues, security conditions, and governance. The government fails to acknowledge that the socioeconomic issues and instability were partly caused by the United States. The wounds that U.S. foreign policy in Latin America has caused have lasted decades and are yet to be addressed or even acknowledged. Deliberate intervention in the region has long been rooted in profit at the expense of the vulnerable populations. Migrants coming from Latin America have faced violence, poverty, and political instability; conditions worsened or caused by U.S. military or policy involvement. 

Additionally, both Title 42 and the immigration policies proposed by the Biden administration directly violate domestic and international law. Part of the framework of the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Refugee Protocol places the principle of non-refoulement under international law. This principle declares that no one seeking asylum should be returned or sent back to places where they would face persecution, torture, or other harm. The U.S., among other countries, ratified these terms and accepted them into international law. In recent years though, the U.S. has attempted to go around the non-refoulement principle in an attempt to deter or prevent asylum seekers and as an easy way to address the immigration crisis. The result though is detrimental, causing human suffering and family separations. With these new policies and rules, the Biden administration is attempting to offshore vulnerable asylum seekers to other nations. “Requiring persecuted people to first seek protection in countries with no functioning asylum systems themselves is a ludicrous and life-threatening proposal,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. It is inhumane and unlawful to force these persecuted individuals to seek asylum in countries with barely functioning asylum systems. 

The slew of immigration policies announced by the Biden Administration ultimately restricts access to asylum and puts vulnerable refugees at risk, going against numerous campaign promises. Democratic rhetoric on immigration has historically been that of integration and inclusion, but Biden has decided to go against those norms. The thousands of migrants arriving at the southern border everyday are fleeing violence, persecution, poverty, and other extreme circumstances that the history of U.S. Foreign Policy and military control has caused. Expansion of legal access to asylum is the next logical step that the federal government needs to take and that is long overdue.