The hardships facing asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border have exceeded levels witnessed during the Trump administration, some human rights advocates say.
Exposure to cartel violence, deplorable living conditions and bureaucratic red tape have steadily worsened for desperate migrants during Joe Biden’s presidency and even more so since his own asylum restrictions replaced Title 42 earlier this month, the immigration experts said during a May 18 webinar hosted by the Welcome with Dignity campaign.
“The dangers facing asylum seekers are more acute than they were years ago when the Trump administration started these policies, and these policies have contributed to a worsening of the conditions that face migrants and people seeking asylum,” said Eleanor Acer, director of refugee protection for Human Rights First.
Trump-era policies included rules designed to prevent migrant access to legally guaranteed U.S. asylum protections by forcing them to remain in Mexico during the adjudication process or, in the case of Title 42, returned them to Mexico or their home countries without ever having asylum hearings.
As Title 42 drew to a close May 11, the Biden administration rolled out a new rule requiring asylum seekers to apply for hearings in the U.S. using a phone-based application called CBP One, or to have first applied for asylum in a third country en route to the United States from South or Central America or the Caribbean. Both approaches require long waits in dangerous Mexican cities.
Biden’s handling of asylum is more deplorable because it legitimizes policies that were once considered shocking under Trump, said Chelsea Sachau, an attorney with the Arizona-based Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project.
“It means we have normalized something that, for four years, much of the country viewed as really concerning and truly leaving behind our obligations to protect people under refugee and asylum laws,” she said. “We’re normalizing the concept that people shouldn’t have access to our territory, that people shouldn’t have access to asylum again. These are fundamental, bedrock principles that never were in question before.”
Current U.S. asylum policy also raises questions about the integrity of a president who campaigned on reversing Trump-era immigration tactics, said Priscella Orta, an attorney with Lawyers for Good Government.
“We were promised a very different man than what we have today.”
“We were promised a very different man than what we have today” she said, adding that Biden’s actions are a betrayal to Americans and asylum seekers.
“This one hurts more (than Trump) because we believed in him, because we believed him to be the person who is honest, and what he has shown us is that he is not,” Orta said. “And what he has shown my clients is that maybe this country is not what we have promised and told the world. And I think that actually does the most damage to us in the future. We aren’t the people we said we are even though we voted for the man who said he agreed with us. That hurts on a very different level.”
The “infrastructure of cruelty” Biden is creating on immigration and asylum also has negatively affected nonprofits, ministries and others who serve the needs of migrants south of the border, said Amy Fischer, advocacy director for Americas with Amnesty International USA.
“Now that Biden is in office, there is no longer the bad guy of the Trump administration mobilizing funders, mobilizing every day Americans to support people who are seeking safety at the border,” she explained. “A mother and child seeking safety at the border during the Trump administration had the same needs as a mother and child trying to seek asylum in this moment, and yet there is far less attention and far less resources.”
Some aid organizations in Mexico say they are running out of funds and materials to continue their work.
“A critical thing to lift up is that the conditions are worsening because we have now years of this problem that’s just compounding with less attention and less support,” Fisher said.
Just as painful to refugees and those who serve them are the flaws inherent in Biden’s handling of asylum, which activists witnessed on full display during a border visit after Rule 42 expired.
“We saw people hungry for information about what the end of Title 42 means and what the implementation of President Biden’s new asylum ban means for them and their families,” said webinar moderator Bilal Askaryar, interim campaign manager for Welcome with Dignity.
The group also surveyed “completely inhumane living conditions for people forced to wait in encampments and makeshift shelters on the other side of the border while they decide what the best decision is for them and their families while they’re seeking safety,” he added.
Those who try to work through the CBP One app — assuming they have battery power and Wi-Fi access — find it to be riddled with glitches that prevent the scheduling of appointments with U.S. asylum officials, multiple advocates have reported.
“I myself wasn’t able to identify a single person that could successfully make a CBP One appointment,” Askaryar said. “There was one man I was helping whose phone was telling him he was not in Northern Mexico, even though we were just steps from the U.S.-Mexico border. We tried changing his location settings. We tried turning his phone off and on. But he kept getting the same error message that he was not in the geolocated region to request an appointment to seek asylum. The CBP One app is a farce, and the Biden administration is paying lip service to its obligations to protect asylum seekers.”
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