Upholding And Upgrading Asylum
Summary Recommendations for the Biden Administration
Nearly three years after President Biden took office, his administration should double down on effective and humane strategies that are essential to adherence to refugee law and an orderly approach to managing migration. As detailed in Human Rights First’s full set of recommendations, the administration should:
- strengthen its initiatives to build regular pathways and regional refugee resettlement to the United States;
- increase humanitarian aid to address gaps in regional refugee protection that push people north;
- maximize access to U.S. ports of entry;
- upgrade asylum adjudications so they are prompt, fair and efficient; and
- improve coordination, resources and swift access to work permits.
Policies that ban, block, or punish people seeking asylum are neither humane nor effective. They inflict disorder and massive human rights abuses. The president should honor the commitment he made during his campaign to restore asylum—a life-saving protection that many Americans value deeply — and swiftly end his administration’s temporary asylum ban and other policies that endanger, punish, and deny a path to citizenship to people who qualify for asylum under our laws.
In July 2023, a federal court ruled that the asylum ban is unlawful, but the policy remains in place on appeal. In the months it has been in use, it has inflicted terrible human suffering. A course correction will bring the United States into compliance with its legal obligations to refugees while ending the asylum ban’s undermining of effective refugee protection, migration management, and integration objectives.
Recent increases in irregular crossings at the southwest border require solutions that respond to realities. These crossings are driven by factors that include deteriorating conditions and protection deficiencies in other refugee-hosting countries; rampant misinformation; escalating kidnappings, torture, and assaults targeting migrants and asylum seekers who wait in Mexico; and the abysmal conditions and lack of safe shelter facing those who wait there. Also spurring these crossings is the lack of proper access to U.S. ports of entry – including the wait times for appointments, inequities and numerical limits on appointments, and the lack of sufficient access to ports of entry for at-risk people without appointments.
The Biden administration must counter racist narratives and reject dehumanizing and divisive rhetoric. Over the last few years, public discourse relating to asylum has been plagued by orchestrated, politically driven, anti-immigrant rhetoric that portrays migrants and people seeking asylum as threats and invaders. This invasion rhetoric is rooted in, and fans, anti-democratic extremist conspiracy narratives embraced by far-right white supremacists, including by the perpetrators of mass killings in El Paso, Texas, and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg.
Along with the rejection of this rhetoric, the administration must depart from policies that inflict punishments on people seeking protection. Touting the use of a “stick” against people seeking refuge will not appease the perpetrators of xenophobic, racist rhetoric, but instead bolsters their dangerous narratives while creating more dysfunction and suffering, as well as damage to refugee law globally.
Our recommendations will help the Biden administration address those realities and strengthen the asylum system. Congressional support is critical to a functioning, rights-respecting asylum system. By contrast, efforts to deprive humane and effective policies of necessary funding, or to shut down government operations, are sure to thwart orderly processes and spur disorder.