Update: Grave Dangers Continue for Asylum Seekers Blocked In, Expelled to Mexico by Biden Administration

The Biden administration continues to expel and turn away asylum seekers to life-threatening dangers in Mexico without access to U.S. asylum protections guaranteed by domestic and international law, despite rising reports of kidnapping, rape, and other attacks against the people it returns to danger. The Trump administration created the expulsion policy under the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming to invoke public health authority under Title 42 of the U.S. Code, to effectively eliminate asylum at the southern U.S. border. The Trump and Biden administrations have carried out these expulsions despite repeated recommendations of public health experts on how the United States can safely process asylum seekers at the border during the pandemic. While the Trump administration’s use of public health authority to evade U.S. refugee law was specious from the outset, the continued misuse of this authority to endanger the lives of people seeking protection is all the more inexcusable and absurd as the United States continues its “successful fight against the pandemic” and rolls back some pandemic restrictions. The Biden administration appears to be continuing this illegal policy as an immigration policy tool – to attempt to deter refugees from seeking life-saving asylum protection in the United States. This report is an update to a joint report, “Failure to Protect,” on the expulsion policy that was released by Human Rights First, Al Otro Lado, and Haitian Bridge Alliance in April 2021.

The recently-implemented process to exempt a small fraction of asylum seekers and migrants from expulsion on a case-by-case basis is insufficient to protect families and individuals seeking protection at the southern border of the United States, does not comply with U.S. refugee laws or obligations under refugee treaties, and is inaccessible to people unaware of or without access to the organizations implementing the exemption process. In May 2021, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) issued a rare public statement about the U.S. expulsion policy, warning that a “system which allows a small number of asylum seekers to be admitted daily . . . is not an adequate response” and urging the United States “to restore access to asylum for the people whose lives depend on it, in line with international legal and human rights obligations.” The Biden administration is reportedly considering exempting families from Title 42 expulsions but would continue to block and expel asylum-seeking adults – a decision that would cruelly continue sending vulnerable individuals, including many Black, LGBTQ, and other single individuals not traveling with their children, to danger in Mexico.

Violent attacks against asylum seekers and migrants unable to reach safety in the United States due to the failure of the Biden administration to uphold refugee law and restart asylum processing continue to rise. As of June 17, 2021, Human Rights First has tracked 3,250 kidnappings and other attacks, including rape, human trafficking, and violent armed assaults, against asylum seekers and migrants expelled to or blocked at the U.S.-Mexico border since President Biden took office in January 2021. This tally includes incidents published in media, interviews of asylum seekers by Human Rights First, information from attorneys and humanitarian services providers at the border, as well as more than 2,700 reported incidents of violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers stranded in Mexico that were received through an ongoing electronic survey conducted by the organization Al Otro Lado and reviewed by Human Rights First. Black and LGBTQ asylum seekers blocked in Mexico under the expulsion policy continue to experience targeted discrimination and violence.


Published on June 22, 2021


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