Understanding the Situation at the Border
How Did We Get Here? In 2018, the courts halted the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance policy that separated thousands of families and sparked nationwide outcry of this practice. Unfortunately, not only did this continue in some cases, but the administration then began moving ahead on a series of new and awful efforts designed to eliminate the entire asylum system—but this time, keeping it further away from the eyes of the public. In 2019, it then turned to making it virtually impossible for any person or family to seek asylum at our borders, implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols, otherwise known as the “Remain in Mexico” program. This program left more than 70,000 people in Mexico to wait for drawn out court proceedings with exceedingly scarce access to legal assistance and exposed already vulnerable people to dangerous conditions and at risk to be targeted by violence, extortion, and other organized crime.
And in 2020, the Trump Administration used COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to effectively shut off complete access to enter the US along the southern border by issuing a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) order, using an old statute called Title 42, not seen used in the US’s modern history. This order enabled the expulsion of anyone attempting to cross the border to their countries of origin or to Mexico, including families and unaccompanied children at the height of the pandemic, in which many were secretly housed in hotels and denied their legal rights to consult an attorney. These expulsions are expedited deportations that violate people’s due process rights.
With recent attempts to paint the new Biden Administration’s policies as the main driving force to encourage migration, it is important to understand the gravity of what this administration is doing to unravel this trifecta of policies that have eroded the asylum system to its current state, and where it must continue to its commitment to undo harmful policies, and rebuild the immigration system.
What Has the Biden Administration Done? President Biden kept his promise of ending the “Remain in Mexico” program, including signing an executive order on day one of his Presidency to end any new enrollments to the program, and officially ending it on June 1, 2021 after review by the administration. The formal wind down of the program was announced in February 2021, opening up key Ports of Entry along the border to finally welcome in roughly 25,000 eligible asylum seekers, and an additional 34,000 from the recently announced expansion. The Biden Administration, however, must immediately end the use of Title 42 to stay true to its commitment to build a humane and orderly asylum system.
Now that “Remain in Mexico” has been rescinded by the Biden Administration and the wind down expansion recently announced in June 2021, organizations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the Welcome With Dignity campaign are working in collaboration with the U.S. Government and UNHCR to welcome the families and children that spent months and years in horrible conditions. This is welcome news; however, much more needs to be done to provide urgent relief to people impacted by MPP, including the tens of thousands whose cases were unjustly terminated. Additionally, the roll back of MPP has not addressed the needs of many other vulnerable people, especially for Haitians and other Black and African people seeking asylum who were excluded from enrollment into MPP and were stranded in Mexico for years, some predating the Trump Administration. And as long at the current administration keeps Title 42 in effect, it will continue to turn away some of the most vulnerable people with no other avenues to seek asylum back to danger in Mexico or in their home countries.
Family Separation Today & The Effects of Title 42
The Biden Administration’s continued use of Title 42 and its exception for unaccompanied children, has forced some migrant parents to make the heart-wrenching decision to separate from their children and send them into the United States alone because if they were to seek asylum together as a family, they would all be expelled under Title 42 without a chance to seek asylum. These Title 42 family separations mean children arrive in the United States confused, in distress, and without their parents, causing the recent rise of unaccompanied children at the southern border. Additionally, the continued enforcement of this cruel policy has even resulted in the expulsion of many mothers of U.S. citizen newborns, who immediately after giving birth to their children, have been expelled without documentation for their babies.
Finally, Title 42 disproportionately affects asylum seekers from predominantly Black countries who were more likely to be excluded from MPP, such as Haiti and Cameroon, as well as Indigenous communities, as they have no avenues to apply for asylum, and they face harsher conditions and racism once expelled to border towns. As of April 2021, the Biden Administration has expelled (expedited deportations without due process) 360,848 newborns, children, adults, and families to either their country of origin or back to dangerous conditions at the southern border.
What Can I Do?
Want to help, but not sure where to get started? Here are five ways you can support directly-impacted families and organizations welcoming asylum seekers: