LEADING BY EXAMPLE, HONORING COMMITMENTS:
Recommendations for the Biden Administration to Uphold Refugee Law at Home
Two years since President Biden took office, his administration has taken some important initial steps toward ending Trump administration policies that subvert refugee law and endanger the lives of people seeking asylum. These steps include President Biden’s February 2021 executive order directing review of Trump administration policies, the Secretary of Homeland Security’s termination and re-termination of the notorious Remain in Mexico (RMX) policy, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) April 2022 order directing an end to the Title 42 “public health” order used to expel and block people seeking refugee protection at the border.
Despite these steps forward, some of the most damaging and dysfunctional Trump administration policies have continued in force or on the books due to lawsuits filed by state politicians aligned with the prior administration, slow-paced U.S. agency regulatory action, and damaging steps backward by the Biden administration to expand and propose use of Trump policies in the face of border arrivals and orchestrated, politically driven anti-immigrant rhetoric. In advance of the November 2022 mid-term elections, the Biden administration expanded its use of the Trump-initiated Title 42 policy to turn away Venezuelans and used its creation of a new parole initiative for Venezuelans to try to justify this denial of access to asylum — a move that promptly triggered condemnation by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and UNICEF. On January 5, 2023, the Biden administration announced a new parole initiative for nationals of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela but — again — improperly accompanied this positive initiative with the expansion of use of Title 42 to expel nationals of all four countries without allowing them to seek asylum.
Simultaneously, the Biden administration announced alarming plans to propose an asylum ban — an approach repeatedly initiated by the Trump administration and repeatedly found unlawful by the courts. During the year that the Trump administration’s transit ban was in effect, it resulted in the denial of asylum to refugees with well-founded fears of persecution, the separation of families, and deprivation of a path to citizenship for refugees left only with withholding of removal due to the transit ban. Moving ahead with this misguided approach would breach President Biden’s campaign promise to end restrictions on asylum seekers traveling through other countries, and endanger many Black, Brown, Indigenous, LGBTQ+ and other asylum seekers. More broadly, the Biden administration’s approach of inflicting “consequences” or using a “stick” (in addition to the “carrot” of parole) on people who cross the border to seek asylum is both deeply dehumanizing and a blatant subversion of human rights and refugee law prohibitions against such penalties.