The United Nations this week gave a scathing criticism of the Biden administration’s latest border security measures, particularly its expansion of Title 42 and asylum eligibility limits — marking the latest shot taken at the plan from activist groups and some Democrats.
The Biden administration announced last week, ahead of President Biden’s visit to the southern border, that it was expanding a humanitarian parole program to include Haitians, Nicaraguans and Cubans. The program will allow 30,000 of those nationalities to enter the U.S. each month if they have not crossed illegally and if they have a sponsor in the country already.
However, while that was largely welcomed by immigration activists, what accompanied it was not. President Biden announced that Mexico had also agreed to take back up to 30,000 migrants a month. Additionally, the administration announced an increased use of an alternative removal authority — expedited removal — to remove those who do not claim asylum and who cannot be expelled under Title 42.
Separately, the Department of Homeland Security announced a rule that would make illegal immigrants ineligible for asylum if they “circumvent available, established pathways to lawful migration” and do not claim asylum in a country through which they traveled to get to the U.S.
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It was those policy changes that immediately saw pushback from groups that are typically on the side of the Biden administration on the question of immigration. The U.N. head of human rights accused the Biden administration of putting a right to claim asylum in the U.S. at risk.
“The right to seek asylum is a human right, no matter a person’s origin, immigration status, nor how they arrived at an international border,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement.
Turk said that the measures “appear to be at variance with the prohibition of collective expulsion and the principle of non-refoulment.”
US President Joe Biden speaks with a member of the US Border Patrol as they walk along the US-Mexico border fence in El Paso, Texas, on January 8, 2023.
(JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Image)
“While I welcome measures to create and expand safe and regular pathways, such initiatives should not come at the expense of fundamental human rights, including the right to seek asylum and the right to an individual assessment of protection needs,” he said. “Limited access to humanitarian parole for some cannot be a replacement for upholding the rights of all to seek protection of their human rights.”
Turk’s criticism was the latest such barb at the plans, particularly from activists upset at the expansion of expulsions under the Title 42 public health order. That order, which the Biden administration had sought to end, is currently being considered by the Supreme Court and allows for the rapid return of migrants due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While humanitarian parole programs are certainly helpful and needed, they do not replace the system of asylum which continues to be eroded by expanded use of Title 42,” Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) said in a statement. “CLINIC has been firm: Any expansion of Title 42 is misguided and dangerous. Continued use of a harmful, outdated health policy to usurp our legal obligations under international and asylum law is wrong.”
CLINIC was one of a number of immigration groups that, while happy at the expanded asylum pathways, were not prepared to accept the stick that came along with that carrot.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also attacked the administration’s expansion of Title 42 and compared its limit on migrants who had crossed through safe countries to policies implemented during the Trump administration.
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The activist group said Biden’s plan further ties his administration to the poisonous anti-immigrant policies of the Trump era instead of restoring fair access to asylum protections.”
Democrats in Congress were similarly incensed by the restrictions.
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“While we understand the challenges the nation is facing at the Southern border exacerbated by Republican obstruction to modernizing our immigration system, we are deeply disappointed by the Biden administration’s decision to expand the use of Title 42,” Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., said in a joint statement.
“We are pleased to see an increase in the access to parole for Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Haitians, but this narrow benefit will exclude thousands of migrants fleeing violence and persecution who do not have the ability or economic means to qualify for the new parole process,” they said.
The Biden administration has stressed that it sees the answer to the migrant crisis — which has seen millions of migrant encounters since Biden took office — as including expanded legal pathways.
But the left-wing pushback exemplifies how the Biden administration is likely to face stern opposition from fellow Democrats as well as activist groups if it infringes in any way on the ability for those crossing the border from making an asylum claim and being released into the U.S. — even if they have passed through multiple countries or crossed illegally.
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The Biden administration has sought to counter the criticism coming from its left flank, noting in particular that in addition to the expanded parole program, the administration is also using a CBP One App that helps migrants make an asylum claim at a port of entry — rather than by crossing the border illegally.
“If they do not use that application, then they will need to have applied for humanitarian relief in one of the countries through which they have traveled,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said this week. “And if they were denied, then — then they are not subject to — not a ban, but a rebuttable presumption of ineligibility. And there’s a marked difference between the two.”