A key message delivered in President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address just last month emphasized that “it’s our duty to protect all the people’s rights and freedoms.”
And yet President Biden’s actions don’t live up to his rhetoric.
Introducing a new “transit ban” that would place limits on people seeking asylum through a third nation at our southern border, coupled with a renewed interest in reinstating family detention, sends a clear message that Biden has failed this nation on immigration.
We can’t return to the fear, hatred and division of former President Trump’s immigration policies, which prioritized aggressive over-policing of the nation’s southern border as a deterrent to migration.
Biden promised to undo Trump’s harmful immigration policies while running for office. Once in office, Biden reversed several of Trump’s most egregious immigration policies, including Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants.
And yet, this new travel ban will block people from entering the United States if they have not first applied for asylum in the countries through which they traveled. Under the new travel ban, a mother fleeing violence with her children is expected to stop and submit an application for asylum in another country — which almost certainly offers no protection for refugees like her — on her way to the United States.
“They do not have lawyers to advise them on the immigration rules of a half-dozen nations.”
People undertaking the perilous journey to the southern border are often fleeing desperate situations. They do not have lawyers to advise them on the immigration rules of a half-dozen nations. In many cases, the other countries where they could apply for asylum won’t offer it.
It is inhumane to expect people fleeing immediate danger and possible death to wait on a long and tedious paperwork process. By shutting our country’s doors on people in desperate need, the travel ban would transform the Biden legacy on immigration from ending Trump’s hateful policies to enacting new, harsher ones.
As if this new travel ban wasn’t bad enough, Biden also is considering reinstating an inhumane policy that detains families crossing the border. This is the same policy Biden himself ended when he came to office two years ago, and his apparent change of mind is a deeply troubling sign. Reviving this practice, which often tears children apart from their parents, would inflict additional trauma on families who deserve our support.
Biden’s cascade of immigration restrictions fly in the face of his campaign promises and are reminiscent of his predecessor’s policies. Not only do these cruel policies violate our moral obligation to our fellow humans, they are illegal. The transit ban violates the principle of non-refoulement under international human rights law, which guarantees no one should be returned to a country where they would face harm.
At the State of the Union, Biden asked the nation to “imagine if you lost that child at the hands of the law,” and he declared, “Our children have a right to come home safely.” But his immigration policies threaten children’s lives and well-being, returning them to countries where they could face torture and death. The difference between Biden’s words and his actions could spell life or death for countless children.
“The United States cannot continue to disregard our commitment to human rights by upholding policies that tear families apart, expose vulnerable people to violence, and continue the spread of white supremacy and racial division.”
Our country’s path to immigration justice rests in President Biden’s hands. The United States cannot continue to disregard our commitment to human rights by upholding policies that tear families apart, expose vulnerable people to violence, and continue the spread of white supremacy and racial division stoked by President Trump.
In 1840, James Finnegan left Ireland for a better life in America. At that time, there was no formal immigration process to enter the United States. As a result, Finnegan furnished no legal papers and suffered no lengthy application process to become an American. Like people seeking to cross our southern border today, he undertook a perilous journey to our nation’s border. But he was able to begin a new life here.
Because of James’ freedom to migrate, his great-great grandson, Joe Biden, now sits in the White House.
President Biden should honor his heritage by immediately discontinuing any plans for family detention and refusing to continue with his proposed transit ban. We call on the president to make good on his pledge to uphold all people’s freedoms and ensure that everyone, especially those most at risk, can have safe passage to make a new life in the United States.
Salote Soqo serves as director of advocacy, global displacement at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
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