The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Providing People in Migration More Pain Than Promise
By Verdell Wright on June 14, 2023
The decades-old Title 8 policy not only amplifies many of the issues that surfaced from former President Trump’s immigration policies but creates new problems for those seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
There was hope that Biden’s campaign promises of better immigration policy would be realized with the end of Title 42. Unfortunately, those hopes are dashed. The regressive immigration policy revived by President Trump’s administration was predicated on public health concerns around COVID-19 and caused confusion, angst, and anger in its implementation.
Title 42 was terminated on May 11 at midnight. Title 8 immediately went into effect; anyone who approached the border would be considered ineligible for asylum. Many seeking entry at the border were unsure of how the new rules would impact them. There was—and is—concern that engaging the rules would get them sent back to their home countries. The Associated Press reported the story of Teodoso Vargas, who was unsure if taking the next steps to request asylum would prompt a forced return to Honduras.
Title 8’s continued use also brings tougher consequences and conditions. Entering the United States outside of designated ports of entry could result in a five-year ban and criminal penalties. Title 42 did not punish repeated entry attempts, which arguably means that Title 8’s execution is much harsher. While the policy allows more people to request asylum, there is no capacity to make this happen. Even though the Biden Administration is sending more agents to the border, there will not be enough to handle the sheer amount of people requesting appointments. These agents are also not trained to process people seeking asylum but to punish them.
Even the CPB One app—a key strategy of the Biden Administration’s immigration policy—presents hindrances for asylum-seekers and may even violate international law. Under Title 8’s implementation, those who do not use the CBP One app could be banned from entering the United States for five years. To say the app is problematic would be an understatement—critics have noted that the facial recognition software promotes racial discrimination and also has forced families to separate at the border.
Many human rights groups have spoken against Biden’s tactics. A common complaint is that the President’s new approach is not new. It is merely a reshuffling of Trump-era policies and continued infringement upon asylum-seekers’ rights. Human Rights Watch U.S. border researcher Ari Sawyer stated that Biden’s new plans continue, “to rely on failed and deadly deterrence and would bar people from applying for asylum.”
Title 8 does not keep people who enter the U.S. immigration system safe. From Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Mexico, Kathy Kruger notes that a lack of capacity and resources creates conditions ripe for asylum-seekers to experience threats such as extortion, gang violence, and other forms of oppression—the very circumstance many fled their homes to avoid. In March 2023, a fire broke out that left 39 people dead. International Rescue Committee’s Mexico Director Rafael Velásquez stated, “This is proof of the extremely urgent need to ensure that there are systems in place to provide safety for people in need of international protection.”
Equally concerning, the Biden administration has implemented an “asylum ban” that mandates that any person seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border must apply for asylum in Mexico and be rejected before applying for asylum in the United States. This sets up a stressful conundrum for those in migration as they often experience rape, kidnapping, extortion, trafficking, and other forms of violence in Mexico while transiting through the country. Who would want to apply for asylum in a country where there are explicit dangers?
The Biden administration has also implemented—or reinforced—other policies to make the asylum process more difficult. For example, “metering” at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border requires those seeking asylum to wait in Mexico in dangerous conditions while their asylum case is heard.
President Biden rode a wave of trust and hope from immigrant communities during his presidential campaign across the United States. Biden promised a shift from Donald Trump’s racist and xenophobic policies. Ending Title 42—the health policy that barred asylum-seekers from entering the United States at the U.S.-Mexico border for the past three years—was meant to fulfill the hope so many carried to the voting booth. Sadly, Title 8’s continued use is not an improvement; it is a dangerous impediment. UUSC joins other human rights and advocacy organizations in calling for better policies from the Biden Administration. We demand policies that make requesting asylum accessible, the resources to make this hope possible, and a commitment to honoring the legal right to seek refuge.
Image Credit: Adobe