Faith groups will continue to show welcome and compassion to immigrants and asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border whether or not Congress and the White House implement common sense, humane immigration policies, said Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute, a Catholic hospitality organization in El Paso.
“It’s no coincidence that faith communities have risen up to meet” the needs of migrants seeking refuge in the United States. “There is an imperative to welcome the stranger,” Corbett said during a Dec. 1 press call hosted by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and Welcome with Dignity.
The event was designed to mark the end of Title 42 later this month and to sound the alarm about harsh new measures the Biden administration reportedly is considering to crack down on asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Corbett said his and other faith-based organizations see through the fear that inspires restrictive immigration policies.
“The vast majority of hospitality is led by faith communities. Faith communities have proven that we can draw on our narratives and draw on our traditions to show what can be,” he said. “We don’t have to buy in to the lie that we have to be afraid of migrants.”
Corbett and other leaders on the call welcomed a federal judge’s ruling last month that gave the White House until Dec. 21 to end Title 42, a Trump-era policy that was continued by President Biden and resulted in the immediate expulsion of more than 2 million migrants and asylum seekers at the southern border without due process.
“We don’t have to buy in to the lie that we have to be afraid of migrants.”
Later in November, Axios reported that Biden and other federal officials are weighing “drastic measures” to make up for the loss of Title 42. The report said the ideas include barring some groups of asylum seekers and increasing prosecutions for illegal border crossings. Separate reports suggest Haitian asylum seekers may be detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Those developments were followed by a Nov. 30 survey by the National Immigration Forum and the Bullfinch Group that found a strong majority of American voters support congressional Democrats and Republicans collaborating on immigration reforms before the end of 2022.
The reforms favored by most voters include strengthened border security, allowing Dreamers to earn citizenship and enabling farmers and ranchers to safely and legally hire migrant workers.
But press call participants focused more on the shortcomings of current immigration policies and on draconian measures the Biden administration may adopt to dampen the asylum process.
“For decades, the strategy of the U.S. government here on the border has been expensive, blunt and ineffective,” Corbett said. “We’ve invested over and over again in a massive program of deterrence, detainment and expulsion. We’ve learned really well how to treat vulnerable people on the move more and more like criminals, now to include asylum seekers. Denying protection to asylum is unacceptable, deadly and illegal.”
Given that faith-based and other advocacy groups are ready to work with the federal government to welcome and process asylum seekers in ways that are safe for immigrants and for the U.S. security, it would be tragic if the White House took a different approach, he added.
“If the administration continues down this route, if we don’t put in place real solutions, we’re just kicking the can down the road.”
Mary Miller Flowers, senior policy analyst with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, lamented the catastrophic impact U.S. immigration policy has had on the well-being of immigrant children and families, especially through separations and detention.
“The real crisis is our willingness to play politics with people’s safety and deny children and their families the right to seek asylum in the United States.”
The Biden administration must strive to counter the voices of fear that perpetuate inhumane policies and practices at the border, she said. “Anti-immigrant actors would like us to believe that there is a ‘crisis’ at our borders. But the truth is, the real crisis is our willingness to play politics with people’s safety and deny children and their families the right to seek asylum in the United States.”
The federal government wouldn’t have to look far to find individuals and groups prepared and willing to help improve the system, Miller Flowers said. “We have proposed strategies for the government to evaluate family relationships at the border to keep families together whenever possible, and strategies to minimize the time children spend in federal custody. We have the plans and the capacity to step up and meet this moment with humanity.”
It’s crucial that the Biden White House avoid emulating the Trump administration in the treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers, said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection for Human Rights First.
“The asylum bans and other draconian policies Biden administration officials are reportedly considering … would cause family separations, deliver people seeking refugee protection to brutal attacks and kidnappings, punish people for seeking protection, and subvert refugee law.”
President Biden should lead by example, instead, Acer said. “With Title 42 ending, the Biden administration now has the opportunity to fulfill the commitments made by President Biden in his February 2022 executive order, ramp up resettlement and safe pathways, restore compliance with U.S. refugee law at ports of entry and along the border, and provide fair and timely adjudications.”
Reports the administration is considering detaining Haitian asylum seekers at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are especially disturbing, said Guerline Jozef, director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. “It is hard to see how we continue to use extremely dehumanizing policies, and Haitians have always been on the receiving end of the worst of this treatment.”
Detaining Haitian asylum seekers at an American military installation would be as tragic as using Title 42 or other policies to bar immigrants from the legal right to seek asylum, she said. “President Biden promised to restore the soul of America, but that is not what we are witnessing. People need a safe passage to security. He must restore asylum now.”
Jozef added that faith compels her to advocate for asylum seekers. “We can see Moses and Jesus as migrants and as asylum seekers. We must welcome them with dignity and use our faith to do the right thing.”