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3 Ways the U.S. Government is Failing People in Migration— And What We Can Do About It

Despite some positive steps in recent weeks, the Biden administration is still depriving people of their right to seek safety.

By Josh Leach on July 10, 2024

Recent news brought much-needed relief to many people in migration. First, the Biden administration announced a decision to grant “parole in place” protections to many undocumented family members of U.S. citizens. This welcome (if long-overdue) measure will help keep families together by providing a safeguard for at least some mixed status families from the threat of deportation and family separation. 

Then, just a week later, the administration also announced an extension and redesignation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti. This measure will similarly shield thousands of people from the threat of deportation to a country in turmoil. While the measure does not go far enough on its own—and only applies to Haitian nationals who have been in the United States since June 3—it is certainly a step in the right direction. 

We applaud both decisions; they were a welcome break from the drumbeat of otherwise terrible recent policy decisions from this administration on immigration (such as their asylum ban, which remains in effect). Immigrant communities—including UUSC’s partners—deserve to celebrate these victories, which they fought so hard to achieve. 

Violating asylum rights while keeping a low profile

Nevertheless—even as we welcome these decisions, we are aware the administration is also still working behind the scenes to interfere with the rights of people in migration. Many of these efforts to compromise asylum rights have flown under the radar, garnering far less attention than the administration’s high-profile relief programs. But the threat these policies pose to people in migration is just as real. 

Here are just three of the many recent attacks on the right to seek asylum that we are tracking with concern: 

  1. New agreements with foreign governments to deport U.S.-bound asylum-seekers

Last week brought disturbing reports that the U.S. government has inked a new deal with the incoming government of Panama to deport asylum-seekers across the Darién Gap. This narrow stretch of land separates North and South America, and is often the only way for people escaping violence to reach relative safety in the northern hemisphere. Each year, thousands of people in migration hazard this journey—which is notoriously fraught with peril—in order to seek a better life for themselves and their children. 

By promising to fund the Panamanian government’s effort to deport the survivors of this journey—back to the very places they fled—the U.S. is effectively outsourcing its own dirty work of blocking asylum rights. This is just one of several ways this administration has sought to “externalize” the U.S. border, commandeering other regional governments to act as enforcers of U.S. anti-asylum policies. The result of these decisions has been to trap thousands of refugees in a never-ending limbo that has pushed many to the brink of despair

  1. Rolling back legal safeguards for unaccompanied children

The Biden administration also recently managed to convince a federal judge to remove certain long-standing legal oversight requirements for unaccompanied immigrant children in U.S. custody. 

Fortunately, Judge Gee’s order leaves intact the legal safeguards governing conditions in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) facilities—which includes Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holding sites. This means that the preexisting rules under the agreement will continue to prevent the government from detaining families with minor children for longer than 20 days. 

However, the court’s decision—which the Biden administration actively requested and sought—relaxes some of the longstanding guarantees applied to unaccompanied children housed in Health and Human Services (HHS) facilities. These include places like the notorious Homestead detention site that warehoused immigrant children during the Trump administration. Without strong safeguards regulating the treatment of children at government hands, such abuses could be repeated in future. 

  1. Deporting people to countries with terrible human rights records. 

Last week, the Biden administration also sent a deportation flight full of immigrants to the People’s Republic of China—the first such flight to reach mainland China from the U.S. since 2018. The administration sent this flight despite the well-documented dangers that await them at home. The current Chinese government has an appalling human rights record, including overseeing the mass internment and persecution of the Uyghur Muslim ethnic minority

By sending people into the hands of this regime, the Biden administration undermines its own claims to oppose the Chinese government’s abuses. Such a hypocritical policy dooms people to life under an authoritarian regime and provides ammunition to far-right politicians who have falsely tarred Chinese asylum-seekers as a threat (when in reality, these refugees are trying to escape life under the thumb of one of the U.S.’s authoritarian adversaries). 

Take action now: 

People of conscience do not have to submit quietly to these attacks on human rights. The fact that other politicians are threatening to eviscerate asylum even further is no reason to give the current administration a pass. People who believe in the right to seek safety must raise their voices to defend asylum rights now, regardless of who is in the White House. If we do not, it will be even harder to defend these rights later on, if an even more extremely xenophobic administration comes to power. 

Here’s how you can take action to prevent this outcome and preserve rights of humanitarian access for people fleeing danger: 

Image credit: Shutterstock – David Peinado Romero

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