Human Rights Travesty: Biden Administration Embrace of Trump Asylum Expulsion Policy Endangers Lives, Wreaks Havoc
More than seven months since President Biden took office, the U.S. government continues to turn away and block people seeking protection at U.S. ports of entry along the southern border and to expel many asylum seekers to growing danger in Mexico.
First devised by the Trump administration, the expulsion policy weaponizes public health authority under Title 42 of the U.S. Code to effectively bar people from seeking asylum at the border – a flagrant violation of U.S. asylum laws and treaties, and the constitution. While the Biden administration is processing some asylum-seeking families and adults at the border, it has blocked and expelled many to danger since January 2021. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would use a new August 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order, which adopts much of the same flawed reasoning as prior CDC Title 42 orders issued under the Trump administration, to continue to block and expel people seeking protection in the United States – further embracing the Trump administration’s policy of misusing public health authority to evade refugee law.
Rather than adopt sensible measures long recommended by epidemiologists and public health experts to safely restart asylum processing, the Biden administration has not only failed to end the expulsion policy but has escalated it. The administration is expanding the use of expulsion flights to transport migrants and asylum seekers long distances by plane to expel them far from where they entered the United States. These flights flout public health safeguards and violate refugee law. As part of this disgraceful effort, DHS expelled hundreds by plane to the southern Mexican border in August 2021, where many were forcibly pushed into Guatemala without access to asylum. These violations of refugee law have sparked statements of public concern from U.N. agencies and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in a rare public rebuke of U.S. conduct, warned that this practice “increases the risk of chain refoulement—pushbacks by successive countries—of vulnerable people in danger, in contravention of international law and the humanitarian principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention.”
The Biden administration’s expulsion policy is inflicting immense harm – stranding asylum seekers in grave danger where they are targets of horrific kidnappings and attacks, turning away Black and LGBTQ asylum seekers to suffer bias-motivated violence, separating families, and endangering public health. Human Rights First has tracked at least 6,356 kidnappings, sexual assaults, and other violent attacks against people blocked at ports of entry or expelled to Mexico by DHS since President Biden took office. This report outlines many of these horrifying accounts, a growing human rights travesty that the Biden administration cannot ignore.
The administration’s continued use of the expulsion policy—including its failure to restart asylum at ports of entry—also creates disorder and pushes asylum seekers to undertake life-threatening crossings into the United States. As of mid-August 2021, asylum seekers from Belarus, Cameroon, China, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Russia, Venezuela and other countries were blocked from requesting protection at U.S. ports of entry on the southern border.
While it rightly ended the notorious Trump administration “Remain in Mexico” policy, the Biden administration is delivering asylum seekers to the very same dangers through the Title 42 expulsion policy. A lawsuit launched by Texas and Missouri is attempting to force the Biden administration to restart Remain in Mexico, which would only cause greater suffering, violations of U.S. law, and disorder. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on the administration’s request to stay a highly flawed federal court ruling effectively ordering DHS to re-implement the policy. Shockingly, despite President Biden’s commitment and steps to end Remain in Mexico, the administration is reportedly considering launching a “gentler” version of the inherently unfixable policy – an exercise doomed to fail given the policy’s illegality and pervasive violence against asylum seekers in Mexico by cartels and Mexican authorities alike.
Human Rights First implores the Biden administration to immediately end these dangerous, inhumane, and rights-violating policies, uphold U.S. refugee law, and immediately restart asylum processing at ports of entry. The administration’s continuing failure to comply with U.S. refugee laws and treaties is inexcusable. UNHCR has repeatedly urged the United States to “swiftly lift the public health-related asylum restrictions that remain in effect at the border and to restore access to asylum for the people whose lives depend on it, in line with international legal and human rights obligations.”
For this report, Human Rights First researchers conducted in person and remote interviews with migrants and asylum seekers, government officials in the United States and Mexico, attorneys, academic researchers, humanitarian staff, and other legal monitors. Researchers spoke with 65 migrants and asylum seekers in person in the Mexican cities of Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras, and Ciudad Acuña in August 2021 and more than 50 additional interviews with migrants and asylum seekers in Mexico were carried out by telephone between July and August 2021. Interviews were conducted primarily in Spanish with a limited number in English. The report draws on data from an electronic survey of asylum seekers in Mexico conducted by Al Otro Lado between June and August 2021, as well as information from U.S. and Mexican government data, media sources, and other human rights reports.
This report builds on prior research by Human Rights First in May 2020, December 2020, April 2021 (with Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance), May 2021 (with RAICES and Interfaith Welcome Coalition), June 2021, and July 2021 (with Hope Border Institute).