Dozens of lawmakers in the House and the Senate are urging the Biden administration to reverse its expansion of Title 42 — a cruel anti-immigration policy originally invoked by former President Donald Trump — and reconsider its planned proposal of an “illegal and inhumane” travel ban.
In a letter signed by 77 Democrats sent to President Joe Biden this week, the lawmakers said that, while it is laudable that the administration has created new legal pathways for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans, it is unacceptable for the administration to pair them with an expansion of restrictions on the right to seek asylum — even as it is fighting to end the use of Title 42 in court.
“Four decades ago, the Senate unanimously codified the protections of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Congress further made clear that seeking asylum at the border, ‘whether or not at a designated port of arrival,’ is lawful,” the lawmakers wrote. “The administration’s announced border enforcement actions circumvent this law by not only expanding Title 42 beyond what is required by any court but by further implementing policies to deter and penalize people exercising their legal right to seek asylum at the border.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), who helped lead the letter effort, called out Biden’s hypocrisy at a press conference on Thursday.
“Last year President Biden promised to end Title 42. Instead, he is now expanding restrictions on asylum seekers,” she said. “This administration is making it effectively impossible to seek refuge at our border…. President Biden should listen to the courts and human rights advocates and reverse course.”
In the letter, the lawmakers expressed concern over the Biden administration’s recent announcement that it would be issuing guidance that would block people from being granted asylum if they hadn’t sought to stay in a country that they traveled through on their way to the U.S. — a policy that immigrant advocates say is aimed at undermining asylum access, especially for people from Central America.
The Trump administration had attempted to implement a similar transit ban to “categorically end asylum,” the lawmakers pointed out. Trump’s efforts have been ruled illegal by courts, which say that it is a violation of asylum laws to bar asylum seekers if the countries they pass through are not safe. The Democrats say that the conditions in transit countries like Mexico, where thousands of people currently face danger and violence as they wait to enter the U.S., have not improved since judges ruled that Trump’s policies were illegal.
Along with Ocasio-Cortez, the letter was spearheaded by Representatives Greg Casar (D-Texas) and Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey). It has been signed by prominent progressive lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) called Title 42 and the transit ban “unconscionable” at the press conference and questioned the administration’s motivations in expanding the anti-immigrant policies.
“Title 42 is meant to be a public health tool, is what we’re told. Does anybody seriously believe the administration is doing this to prevent COVID-19? It’s a stopgap measure kept in place by far-right judges and expanded under this administration that denies the right to asylum by failing to address the underlying structural problems with our immigration system,” she said.
“The asylum transit ban was repeatedly struck down as unconstitutional during the Trump administration. Why would this administration double down on this illegal and inhumane policy? How can it not see that the costs far outweigh any perceived benefits?” she said, adding that there’s “nothing moderate” about continuing to implement extreme, xenophobic policies that have been pushed by the far right to deter and criminalize asylum seekers.
Indeed, some conservative and so-called moderate Democrats have been embracing Title 42, often parroting debunked right-wing talking points about a “surge” of asylum seekers at the border that experts say can, instead, be chalked up to backlogs of demand due to the pandemic. These Democrats seem to be willingly following the GOP as it plunges deeper into far right, racist anti-immigrant sentiment, refusing to speak out as the Biden administration continues imprisoning undocumented immigrants and even calling for Democratic officials to stop their efforts to end Title 42 in court.
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