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Racial Discrimination Continues to Drive U.S. Border Policies

U.S. border policies only reinforce xenophobia, racism, and intolerance. 

By Mike Givens on March 21, 2023

For more than 60 years, the United Nations has designated March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On March 21, 1960, police in South Africa opened fire on a group of nonviolent protestors who were attempting to call attention to the racism embedded in South Africa’s pass laws. These laws were an attempt to limit the movements of Black people across the nation. The “passport” system set up by the government restricted where Black people could go within the nation and also helped deter internal migration for the Black population. The shooting took the lives of nearly 70 people and injured roughly 180 people.

Sixty-two years later, we honor the lives of those we lost through a consistent demand that racial discrimination be eliminated for the sake of equity and justice for every single one of us. Sadly, in 2023, the United States continues to be one of the biggest perpetrators of racial discrimination in the world—and its migration policies are clear proof.

The Transit Ban

The Biden administration is gearing up to implement a transit ban along the southern border of the United States, one that will mandate that a person seeking asylum must have applied for—and been denied—asylum in another country before they can request asylum in the United States. This policy is a clear attempt to ensure that people migrating into the United States from Central and South America are kept from entering the country and applying for asylum. Unless able to provide concrete proof of one of a limited number of special exceptions, people seeking asylum will be forced to apply for it in Mexico.

With the imminent end of Title 42—another migration policy that has been weaponized against people of color in migration—the Biden administration is poised to implement the transit ban to severely limit the number of people who can cross the border in hopes of fleeing violence, persecution, and oppression. This policy is a clear violation of the international principle of non-refoulement, which, “prohibits States [nations] from transferring or removing individuals from their jurisdiction or effective control when there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be at risk of irreparable harm upon return, including persecution, torture, ill treatment or other serious human rights violations.” The principle reinforces the moral obligation of any nation to not deport people back to dangerous circumstances.

We know empirically that a large number of people migrating north into Mexico and the United States are fleeing political corruption, gender-based violence, oppressive military and law enforcement systems, and other social, cultural, and political dangers that necessitate their leaving. The United States has a moral obligation to provide every single person who crosses the border an asylum interview and an opportunity to plead their case before an immigration judge. The transit ban will circumvent that process and force many to remain in Mexico.

Mexico as an Alternative

While Mexico may appear to be a viable alternative to the United States, there are a number of inherent risks that asylum-seekers face in the country that make it quite dangerous to live. Non-Mexican people in migration are often at risk of rape, torture, murder, femicide, robbery, extortion, and disappearances. The Department of State itself issued an advisory warning American travelers of certain states within Mexico to reconsider traveling to. In early March, that advisory made international headlines when two Americans were murdered after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on a medical tourism trip.

Collective Action is Needed

We have the power to send a clear and resounding message to the Biden administration that the transit ban is a racist and regressive policy that will abdicate our international obligations to those who are migrating. Learn more about the transit ban and submit a public comment.

Like South Africa more than 60 years ago, the United States is at a critical junction where it has the power to do right by people of color and those in migration. Enforcing regressive and restrictive policies meant to exclude certain people from their human rights is no way for a nation that prides itself on diversity to behave.

Image Credit: UUSC

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