Biden Administration Use and Expansion of Trump Policy to Ban People Seeking Asylum Endangers Lives, Tramples Human Rights

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s announcement of plans to expand use of the Trump-initiated Title 42 policy and resurrect other unlawful Trump policies to ban asylum seekers endangers lives, tramples on refugee law, and subverts public health, warned Human Rights First in the wake of President Biden’s speech today.

“The Biden administration should be taking steps to restore asylum law at ports of entry, not doubling down on cruel and counterproductive policies from the Trump playbook,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First. “Imposing asylum bans, expulsions, or other punitive policies on people seeking asylum at the U.S. border is both a violation of U.S. refugee law and the Refugee Convention. Far from being a model, the Venezuelan asylum ban is a humanitarian disgrace. Every day that these policies are in place, people seeking refuge will be turned away to suffer horrific abuses. This subversion of human rights and refugee law is a stain on the record of President Biden and his administration that will inflict indelible harm on human lives, human rights, and the refugee protection system globally.”

The president’s speech and announcements from Secretary Mayorkas indicate that the Biden administration plans to expand its use of Title 42 to expel people seeking asylum from Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua and continue its expanded use of Title 42 against asylum seekers from Venezuela. As with its expansion of Title 42 to Venezuelans in October 2022, the administration will couple these punitive expulsions with a limited parole initiative that is available only to some people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Ukraine, and Venezuela and excludes many vulnerable refugees from these countries who do not qualify for the program. The administration also plans to initiate a proposed rulemaking that would resurrect unlawful Trump administration asylum bans and expand the use of the fundamentally flawed expedited removal process, which will result in the deportation of refugees to persecution and torture.

Human Rights First calls on the Biden administration to uphold refugee law and the fundamental human right to seek asylum, end the illegal and inhumane approach of inflicting penalties on people seeking refugee protections at U.S. borders, restore refugee law at ports of entry and along the border, and ensure that people seeking asylum — regardless of their nationality or pre-existing ties in the United States — have access to a fair, orderly, and humane asylum process.

Human Rights First has documented the horrific harms inflicted by the Title 42 policy as well as other Trump administration policies, including the asylum transit ban which led to returns to persecution and prolonged detention, as well as family separations and the deprivation of pathways to citizenship for refugees denied asylum and left only with  the insufficient protection of withholding of removal.

In its most recent report, released on December 15, 2022, Human Rights First tracked over 13,400 reports of kidnappings, torture, rape and other brutal attacks against asylum seekers blocked in or expelled to Mexico under the Title 42 policy since President Biden took office nearly two years ago. That report documented many of the harms inflicted by the expansion of Title 42 to Venezuelans, including denials of access to asylum, separation of families, kidnappings and other attacks, and onward refoulement, as well as the flaws in the parole program that make it inaccessible to many of the most vulnerable refugees seeking asylum.

Human Rights First and other organizations have also documented the dangers of wielding expedited removal against asylum seekers, which results in erroneous deportations of refugees to harm without an asylum hearing.

Human Rights First and other groups have urged the creation of safe pathways for migrants seeking to travel to this country, but stressed that such pathways should not be coupled with plans to ban or expel people seeking asylum from the country, including through use of the counterproductive and cruel policies of the prior administration. The United States has the capacity and should welcome people seeking a safe haven at our borders by reopening our ports of entry for orderly, safe, and humane asylum processing.


Published on January 5, 2023


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