NGO Letter to Biden Administration Expressing Profound Disappointment in Continued Violations of Refugee Law

As the world marks the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, our 178 faith-based, humanitarian, legal services, immigration, and human rights organizations write to express profound disappointment that your administration’s actions are undermining refugee protections globally and violating refugee law at home.

Dear President Biden:

As the world marks the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, our 178 faith-based, humanitarian, legal services, immigration, and human rights organizations write to express profound disappointment that your administration’s actions are undermining refugee protections globally and violating refugee law at home. We are gravely concerned that the administration issued a new order this week to continue to block and expel asylum-seeking families and adults to life-threatening dangers, is escalating the use of fundamentally flawed expedited removal, has massively increased detention of adults seeking protection, and continues to make statements that undermine the right to asylum.

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We are horrified that your administration has embraced and doubled down on the Trump-era Title 42 policy by announcing it will use a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order, which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is wielding to continue to block and expel families and adults seeking refugee protection in violation of U.S. refugee law. This order, like its predecessors, uses public health as a pretext to circumvent U.S. refugee laws and treaties. We urge that you immediately end this travesty.

Over the past six months, human rights researchers and journalists have identified over 3,200 kidnappings, torture, rape, and other attacks suffered by people expelled or blocked at the border under Title 42. Epidemiologists and public health experts have repeatedly denounced the Title 42 policy as lacking public health justification and actually threatening public health. They have urged your administration to adopt rational, science-based measures that protect public health and people seeking safety in the United States. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has specifically called on 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.”

In addition, many refugees will be deprived of their right to seek asylum in the United States as a result of DHS’s announcement that it will subject families to expedited removal (a process already being used against adult asylum seekers), despite its long history of due process failures. The bi-partisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which monitored this process over many years, found that CBP officers failed in more than half of cases where monitors were present during interviews to take steps required under U.S. law to screen asylum seekers. In 15 percent of cases the Commission observed CBP improperly order asylum seekers deported who had indicated a fear of return. Not only do the deficiencies documented by USCIRF and others continue, but DHS has expanded the use of expedited removal.

The DHS announcement also suggests that families will be subjected to expedited removal for coming to the United States the “wrong way,” thereby inflicting expedited removal as a penalty for entry, which is impermissible under the Refugee Convention, and completely disingenuous, as people cannot generally seek asylum at U.S. ports of entry due to the administration’s failure to uphold refugee law at the border. Further, this expedited removal process reportedly relies on the use of the Electronic Nationality Verification Program (ENV) to quickly deport nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras without travel documents, which will likely further limit access to counsel. Tellingly, the DHS announcement makes no mention of the use of ENV or a 2019 DHS memo directing that people with imminent medical concerns should not be removed using ENV.

The administration’s plans to “fairly and efficiently” decide asylum cases, outlined in its new Blueprint, are also premised on the use of the fundamentally unjust expedited removal process. Fairness, due process and compliance with U.S. obligations to protect people seeking asylum should not be sacrificed for speed. Many of our organizations have also written to DHS to object to the sharp increase in detention of adults seeking asylum, which has accompanied the administration’s use of expedited removal, and urged that neither adults nor families be jailed while their asylum cases proceed.

We also urge that your administration stop making statements that undercut the right to asylum and reinforce anti-asylum narratives. Earlier this year, many of our groups wrote to express concern about administration statements that risked bolstering the prior administration’s inhumane rhetoric. We continue to be deeply disappointed that some administration statements undermine the right to seek asylum, attempt to justify treating asylum seekers and migrants as threats to public health, and tout efforts to provide protection for people “closer to their homes” – a phrase often used in xenophobic rhetoric aimed at denying people protection in the United States. We were particularly dismayed by recent comments indicating that people “should not come” to the United States to seek asylum and that they could instead seek “asylum” from their home countries – a message that sends the wrong signal to rights-violating governments looking to slam their doors shut to the persecuted.

Your administration must direct immediate actions to uphold U.S. refugee law and treaty obligations. Critical steps include restarting asylum processing along the border, ending policies that block people from seeking asylum at our ports of entry, providing prompt and fair asylum decisions, rejecting the use of expedited removal and immigration detention, and launching legal representation and community-based case support initiatives. The United States helped draft the Refugee Convention in the wake of World War II, and, as a U.S. Senator, you were a co-sponsor of the U.S. Refugee Act, which affirmed in U.S. law the right to seek asylum. The United States should lead by example by honoring its human rights commitments at home.

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Published on August 6, 2021

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