Border Restrictions Lift, But Biden Administration Blocks Protection for Asylum Seekers and Children
On November 8, 2021, the Biden administration lifted restrictions on non-essential travel at the U.S.-Mexico border, allowing vaccinated individuals with “appropriate documentation” to enter the United States, yet the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to block people seeking refuge at U.S. ports of entry and expel them back to the dangers they are fleeing. These expulsions, whether at ports of entry or along the U.S.-Mexico border, separate families, return people to grave danger, create confusion, spur dangerous crossings, and flagrantly violate U.S. asylum laws, the constitution, and international treaty obligations. Human Rights First, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (Florence Project), and other Arizona-based organizations, including the Kino Border Initiative, are tracking and monitoring Title 42 expulsions of asylum seekers at Arizona and other ports of entry and the harms caused to families, children, and adults illegally turned away from the United States.
This factsheet’s key findings include:
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at ports of entry at the Arizona-Sonora border continue to turn away people, including unaccompanied children, seeking U.S. protection. Officers frequently tell people seeking protection there is “no asylum.” As a result, asylum seekers from Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and other countries are blocked from protection and stranded in dangerous border towns in Sonora. People from Mexico trying to seek protection in the United States are being directly returned – or refouled – by CBP to the country they are trying to flee without consideration of their requests for protection. CBP also continues to fail to respond to requests for humanitarian parole. The Nogales port of entry has not granted any of the 15 humanitarian parole requests submitted by the Florence Project, Arizona Justice for Our Neighbors, and Al Otro Lado since August 2021. This summer, Arizona CBP officers forced a Honduran asylum seeker with a high-risk pregnancy experiencing severe pain and heavy vaginal bleeding to travel hundreds of miles to Tijuana for the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) wind down process even though other vulnerable individuals had been processed in Nogales.
While DHS claims that it lacks “capacity” to process asylum seekers at ports of entry, the agency is devoting extensive resources to daily mass-expulsions that endanger public health. For example, the agency is expelling dozens of asylum-seeking families it has held for days in congregate settings and then flown hundreds of miles from the Texas border for expulsion to Mexico through the Nogales port of entry. Many are being handed over to Mexican migration officials who force non-Mexican migrants and asylum seekers onto buses to southern Mexico and then force them into Guatemala without an opportunity to request asylum. These expulsions are not about safeguarding public health but, in fact, undermine public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Further undermining the Biden administration’s claim that Title 42 expulsions are necessary to protect public health, Arizona CBP officers are turning away asylum seekers carrying proof of COVID-19 vaccination and/or negative COVID-19 tests, while its officers in the region regularly fail to wear required personal protective equipment. At a Nogales port of entry, a CBP officer told an asylum-seeking family that it did not matter that they were vaccinated against COVID-19 and had tested negative because Title 42 was “not about that.”
Title 42 expulsions at Arizona ports of entry create confusion at the border, separate families, send asylum seekers to dangerous cartel-controlled border towns in the Mexican state of Sonora, and push people seeking protection to undertake dangerous crossings. People expelled by DHS to Sonora are targeted for kidnappings and brutal attacks. They include: a gay Cuban couple who was robbed and sexually abused by municipal police; three Nicaraguan dissidents who were strip searched and robbed by Mexican police near the border with Yuma, Arizona; and a Guatemalan asylum seeker who was kidnapped soon after DHS expelled him and his seven-year-old daughter near the Lukeville port of entry. Without access to asylum at ports of entry, families, adults, and children seeking protection are pushed to undertake increasingly life-threatening border crossings through harsh desert terrain in areas often controlled by organized criminal groups. The continued use of Title 42 is endangering lives and creating disorder along the border.