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Biden administration under fire over asylum crackdown

11 June 20240 comments

Human rights groups and migrant and refugee advocacy agencies have reacted with concern at the US Government’s crackdown on asylum seekers seeking access to the US.

US President Joe Biden recently issued an executive order curtailing asylum access and paving the way for people crossing the US-Mexico border irregularly to be quickly deported.

Under the new order, when the daily average of people stopped crossing the border without visas exceeds 2,500, immigration officials will be able to immediately deport those who do not express a fear of returning to their home country, a process that could take just a few hours.

The move comes ahead of the US presidential election in November, in which immigration policy has become a major issue.

The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR said it was “profoundly concerned” about the new measures.

UNHCR said the move would “deny access to asylum for many individuals who are in need of international protection, and who may now find themselves without a viable option for seeking safety and even at risk of refoulement”.  

“Any person who claims to have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their country of origin must have access to safe territory and have this claim assessed before being subject to deportation or removal,” the agency said.

“UNHCR recognises that the United States is facing challenges in dealing with the significant number of people arriving at its border. The United States has a long history of welcoming refugees and continues to do so through various pathways, including resettlement and private sponsorship, as well as the processing of asylum claims.

“We call on the United States to uphold its international obligations and urge the government to reconsider restrictions that undermine the fundamental right to seek asylum.”

Amnesty International USA said the move was unconscionable and showed “contempt and disregard for the human rights of people in search of safety”.

Amnesty’s Director of Migrant Rights Amy Fischer said: “This policy… is touting is the same one used by the Trump administration to separate families at the border and create lasting harm to thousands of families. 

“Time and again, we’ve seen President Biden move away from actions that welcome people and build a functional foundation for asylum to enacting cruel policies that criminalise people for escaping danger and deter people from seeking safety,” she said.

“Playing politics with the lives of human beings is always wrong and never the answer. Amnesty International calls on the Biden administration to stop infringing on human rights and enact policies of welcome.”

Jesuit Refugee Services USA also condemned efforts to limit access to asylum.

“The United States has long been the world leader in offering safe haven to refugees who have suffered or fear persecution. US law recognises the right to seek asylum,” JRS said.

“Instead of slamming the door to those in need of protection, we urge the Biden Administration to reform its asylum system and partner with Mexico and Central American countries to continue to strengthen their asylum systems and to expand opportunities for legal immigration pathways that allow refugees and migrants to flourish in the region in a safe manner that affirms their dignity.” 

Under the new order, when the daily average of people apprehended crossing the border exceeds 2,500, immigration officials will immediately deport those who do not express a fear of returning to their home country.

People who do express a fear of returning to their home country will be screened by an immigration official using a procedure that is more stringent than the current protocol.

Those whose fears are deemed credible still won’t be able to apply for asylum, but they will be able to qualify for more limited forms of protection.

The number of people crossing the US-Mexico border irregularly has decreased in recent months, largely due to stepped-up immigration enforcement by Mexican authorities.

But the daily average of border apprehensions, about 3,700 per day in May, is still above the threshold set by Biden’s executive order, which means the new regime will come into effect immediately and stay in place until the daily average of arrests drops below 1,500 for two weeks in a row. 

A number of enduring linked social and political crises in Latin America and across the globe have been driving an increasing number of people to undertake dangerous journeys to try to reach the United States via irregular routes.

Successive US administrations have implemented a variety of harsh policies aimed at trying to reduce migration.

The result has been tens of thousands of people ending up stranded for long periods in vulnerable living conditions in cities on the northern Mexican border, exposed to exploitation and abuse by both authorities and crime cartels.