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US border deal slammed by refugee advocates

28 February 20240 comments

Human rights groups and advocates say that changes to the US immigration arrangements stemming from a deal between Republicans and the Biden administration would mean sending asylum seekers back to “certain death”.

The border security deal — part of the larger supplemental funding package that includes aid for Israel, Ukraine, and other foreign policy priorities — came after months of negotiations.

It includes provisions to raise standards for asylum screening and to process claims faster. It also ends the practice known as “catch and release,” and it provides a new authority to close the border to most migrants when crossings reach a set threshold.

Amnesty USA director Amy Fischer described the deal as “cruel”.

“It trades the human rights of immigrants and asylum seekers for foreign military funding, and members of Congress should reject it,” Ms Fischer said.

“The immigration measures in this deal are the most extreme anti-immigrant proposals this country has seen in 100 years. From ending the legal right to asylum, to creating unworkable standards that will fail to protect the most vulnerable, to funding to detain 50,000 people and build a border wall, these policies are draconian and antithetical to human rights.

“These permanent policies will not solve the humanitarian crisis at the border, they will only lead to more suffering, more cruelty, and more death.

“As candidate, Joe Biden vowed to return to humane immigration policies, but as President, he has repeatedly pulled from former President Trump’s playbook of cruelty. It is shameful that he has now joined the ranks of politicians so ready and willing to use migrants as pawns.

“Human rights are not bargaining chips. People have the human right to seek asylum. Senators must not trade away the human rights of immigrants and people seeking safety.”

Democrat congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, slammed the long-awaited bipartisan, saying the changes it would make to the asylum-seeking process would send “too many people back to certain death, discrimination, or other harm”.

“I am still reviewing the text of this proposal, which was constructed under Republican hostage-taking and refusal to fund aid for Ukraine without cruelty toward immigrants.

“However, it is already clear it includes poison pill provisions such as new Title 42-like expulsion authority that will close the border and turn away asylum seekers without due process, a boon to cartels who prey on migrants,” Ms Jayapal said.

“For migrants who are able to seek asylum, they would now be subject to unrealistic standards and timelines under which to present their asylum claims, forcing too many people back to certain death, discrimination, or other harm,” she said.

“The bill also limits parole at land ports of entry which will only disincentivise people coming to ports to be processed in a safe and orderly way,” Ms Jayapal said.

NGO Human Rights First has said the deal threatens refugees’ lives.

“Instead of working to find a resolution to serious issues confronting people seeking asylum and the U.S. immigration system, Washington is playing politics in ways that threaten refugees’ and other migrants’ lives,” said Michael Breen, CEO and President of Human Rights First.

“Our government’s leaders must stop viewing the border as a numbers game. The United States cannot deny someone the right to seek safety and protection just because they are number 5,001 in line that day.  The partisan posturing and political games being played in Washington serve no one.”

LGBTQ activists say the new arrangements will particularly impact LGBTQ people seeking safety from persecution. 

Allen Morris, policy director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said: “Extremists want you to believe there is a ‘crisis’ at the border”.

“The only crisis is a broken system that requires rebuilding. The needs of LGBTQ, disabled and Black or brown asylum seekers have either been disregarded or, worse, used as a tactic to incite fear.

“Restricting asylum without thinking of the impact is alarming and shows the willingness of lawmakers to bend to unfounded political pressure while dehumanizing the most marginalised.”