A Report Card on Biden and Harris’ First Year in Office (Part 2) - Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

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A Report Card on Biden and Harris’ First Year in Office (Part 2)

The Biden administration has a tremendous amount of work to do to live into its human rights commitments.

By Josh Leach on January 20, 2022

In part two of our series, we assess President Biden’s track record in the areas of Migrant, Climate, and International Justice.

Migrant Justice (F)

It pains us to give the administration an “F” in an area where they at one point seemed to be making so much progress, but the truth must be acknowledged. Since we first graded them back in April, the administration has moved backward instead of forward, at least with respect to their migrant justice human rights goals. Not only have they shifted away from ending the anti-asylum Title 42 program, they have doubled-down on other harmful policies that also interfere with asylum rights, such as expanding the Remain in Mexico policy to additional nationalities, and pushing Central American families into rushed “rocket docket” proceedings that are incompatible with due process. 

Likewise, the administration has failed to enact the path to citizenship provisions they originally promised in the Build Back Better legislative package. When the senate parliamentarian advised against these provisions on specious and biased grounds, they failed to challenge her reasoning. 

To get a passing grade for migrant justice next time around, the administration must stop expelling asylum-seekers without offering them a chance to make their case for protection; stop returning people to dangerous conditions across the border; and use the Vice President’s authority in the Senate to incorporate citizenship provisions into pending legislation. 

Climate Justice (D-)

The Biden administration has repeatedly acknowledged that fossil fuel consumption is to blame for the climate crisis engulfing the globe, which has driven average temperatures to record highs and sparked a host of environmental calamities. Yet, even as they are aware of these dangers, the Biden team continues to back and approve fossil fuel projects that it knows will harm the climate. 

One example will suffice: this past year, nearly 2,000 UUSC advocates wrote to President Biden urging him to revoke the permits allowing the Line 3 pipeline extension to move forward, noting that the pipeline runs through treaty-protected Indigenous land and threatens to carry thousands of barrels-worth of planet-warming fuel a day, exacerbating the climate crisis. Yet Biden not only allowed this project to move forward, he is actually on pace to approve more oil and gas projects on public lands than Trump did

For this betrayal of his promises, we have dropped his grade for climate justice to a D-. 

International Justice (B+)

During the past 12 months, two countries where UUSC works have experienced profound political crises. In February 2021, the Burmese military seized power from the elected government of Myanmar and launched a campaign of vicious repression against their own people. In Haiti, a presidential assassination left a power vacuum that has fueled preexisting political and humanitarian crises in the Caribbean nation. 

Have the Biden administration’s responses to these crises upheld their commitments to human rights? Yes and no. In Burma, the administration has spoken out strongly against the coup and imposed targeted sanctions against the individual military figures responsible. Yet they have stopped short of sanctioning some of the largest military-owned enterprises that Burma’s generals use to enrich themselves and fund their atrocities. Nor have they completed the review they promised as to whether to recognize the military’s 2017 atrocities against the Rohingya as a genocide. 

With respect to Haiti, the administration did the right thing in May 2021 by granting a new Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation to shield Haitian nationals from deportation to the country while it experienced turmoil and violence. Yet this wise decision is at odds with their ongoing use of Title 42 to expel newly-arriving Haitian asylum-seekers at the border, as well as their deeply flawed foreign policy with respect to the Haitian government, where they have backed the former president’s designated strong-man successor over the voices of independent civil society calling for a Haitian-led solution to the crisis. 

The administration’s record on promoting human rights through foreign policy is therefore a mixed bag at best. If they want to improve their scores next time around, they should finally acknowledge the reality of the genocide committed against the Rohingya, support Haitian-led efforts to strengthen democracy, and stop expelling asylum-seekers to danger. 

As we survey the administration’s first year in office, we see a few rays of hope, but also a vast wreckage of broken promises. Our long experience advocating for human rights teaches us that it doesn’t have to be this way. Biden and Harris have what it takes to be a straight-A administration. But they are going to have to put in the effort to get there. 

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