President Joe Biden just keeps digging himself into a deeper hole with the nation’s immigration advocates.
Groups that serve migrants and refugees have been outraged in the weeks since the White House announced its intention to implement an asylum ban that includes a requirement that asylum seekers request safety in other countries before applying for legal protection in the United States.
Now, advocates are sounding the alarm that the administration may be planning to resurrect another Trump-era policy: Detaining families who cross into the U.S. illegally. The current policy is to release and track immigrant families until their required check-in with immigration authorities.
“Detaining families is not in line with American values. Nor is it the solution Americans support to address border and immigration challenges,” said Jennie Murray, president of the National Immigration Forum. “Family detention failed to deter migration under the previous three presidents, and there is no reason to believe results would be different now. Rather than detain families, the administration and Congress should work together on solutions that prioritize human dignity as well as orderly processes.”
“Family detention failed to deter migration under the previous three presidents, and there is no reason to believe results would be different now.”
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, also criticized the moral and practical value of detention.
“Family detention has long been established as exacting a tremendous mental and emotional toll on children and parents alike,” she said. “The very concept of family detention is antithetical to core American values and robs vulnerable people of their God-given dignity.”
Nor does the policy make any economic sense, O’Mara Vignarajah said, explaining that family detention costs more per day than the alternative of releasing and tracking immigrants.
“President Biden should instead focus on keeping his campaign promise to invest in humane alternatives to family detention, such as case management programs,” she urged. “These programs allow asylum-seeking families to live with dignity and satisfy their immigration requirements at a fraction of the cost to both taxpayers and our nation’s reputation as the world’s humanitarian leader.”
The #WelcomeWithDignity campaign for asylum rights provided comments from numerous immigration advocates, including Nili Sarit Yossinger, executive director of Refugee Congress.
“We keep going in circles. The practice of family detention is cruel, unnecessary and runs counter to our values as a nation of welcome, and as humanitarian leaders in the global community. Enough is enough,” she said.
“Refugee families fleeing persecution should not be locked up,” said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. “They have a legal right to seek asylum at our border. Punishing them for exercising that right is deeply harmful and flies in the face of our laws and treaty obligations to refugees.”
Bilal Askaryar, interim campaign manager for #WelcomeWithDignity, blasted the administration’s timing.
“The administration should stop letting its opposition dictate policies.”
“As the world prepares to honor International Women’s Day, President Biden is planning to lock up asylum seeking mothers and their babies. The administration should stop letting its opposition dictate policies and join communities around the country who are proudly welcoming people to their new homes. The challenge is not refugees seeking asylum at our doorstep, it is how we respond.”
Askaryar joined other asylum proponents during a March 2 webinar to urge the administration to reconsider its proposed asylum travel ban, a rule that was published in the Federal Register Feb. 23.
“Like the Trump administration’s asylum ban, this rule would deny refugees seeking protection and asylum and block them and rapidly deport them without access to asylum hearings and through expedited removal,” Askaryar said.
Panelist Mark J. Seitz, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, said he strongly opposes the rule, which is undergoing a 30-day public comment period before implementation.
“It is also a policy that perpetuates the misguided notion that heavy-handed enforcement measures are somehow a solution to the realities at the border. Decades of similar approaches have demonstrated otherwise,” Seitz said.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, said the travel ban would repeat the life-and-death history Jewish people know all too well.
“We’re going to be loud in our insistence that people seeking protection were created in the image of the divine. The Biden administration wants to reject more people and send them back to danger,” she warned. “If they move forward with this ban, it will be a violation of our nation’s legal and moral obligations.”
The administration also has demonstrated poor timing in rolling out this rule, said Haddy Gassama, national director of policy and advocacy for the UndocuBlack Network.
“Immigration is a Black issue. The Biden administration opened Black History Month with the deportation of Haitian migrants, dropped this inhumane proposed rule in the middle of Black History Month, and is closing out the month by doubling down on Trump’s xenophobic legacy and deporting more Black migrants.”