Rights advocates slam Biden’s ‘draconian’ asylum curbs at US-Mexico border

Biden’s order capping access to asylum will return people to ‘violence, danger and possibly death’, advocates warn.

A US Border Patrol agent watches migrants cross the Rio Grande River
A US Border Patrol agent monitors migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas, the United States [File: Eric Gay/AP Photo]

Immigrant rights advocates have slammed President Joe Biden’s new curbs on asylum at the United States-Mexico border, describing the policy as “the most draconian” move since the Democrat entered the White House in 2021.

During a news conference on Thursday, Azadeh Erfani, a senior policy analyst at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said Biden’s recent executive order violates both US and international law because it will send people with viable asylum claims back to harm.

“Any person, including families with children, who seeks asylum between US ports of entry” will be affected by the new regulations, Erfani said.

“This applies right now — in the middle of a global displacement crisis, the worst we’ve seen since World War II — and will decimate asylum access in the foreseeable future.”

Biden’s executive order, which came into effect in the early hours of Wednesday, allows his administration to stop processing asylum claims if the number of irregular crossings at the US-Mexico border surpasses an average of 2,500 per day for a week.

The order allows for certain exemptions, including for unaccompanied minors and people determined to be victims of human trafficking.

“This action will help us gain control of our border and restore order [to] the process,” Biden told reporters as he announced the measures.

But seeking asylum is a right under both US and international law — no matter how people enter US territory. Biden himself campaigned on a pledge to uphold the country’s “moral responsibility” at the border and enforce immigration laws with dignity.

In a 2019 social media post criticising his predecessor Donald Trump’s anti-immigration stance, Biden promised “not turn away those fleeing violence, war & poverty”.

But as the number of migrants and asylum seekers trying to enter the US at the Mexico border skyrocketed last year, the Democratic president has been under pressure from Republicans to take a tougher stance on unauthorised crossings.

This week’s order comes five months before Biden is set to face off against Trump in November’s presidential election, a race that is expected to be close.

The executive order also coincides with a new rule from the Department of Homeland Security and the US Attorney General that also tightens asylum procedures.

The new rule implements three changes to existing asylum policy. Crucially, it scraps a requirement that US immigration officers must inform people of their right to seek asylum and ask whether they fear persecution, according to a fact sheet prepared by the American Immigration Council.

Instead, asylum seekers now need to express a fear of persecution themselves or inform US officers that they want to seek asylum, something advocates refer to as the “shout test”.

Only then would they get a “credible fear interview”, where asylum applicants are expected to demonstrate a need for protection.

The Biden administration’s new rule also increases the threshold that applicants need to meet during the interview to be eligible for asylum.

“As of this week, the Biden administration has allowed for these interviews to happen within as little as four hours of peoples’ entry [to the US], while raising the standard,” said Erfani at the National Immigrant Justice Center.

The purpose, Erfani said, is “for people to fail these screenings and get deported as fast as possible”.

Deadly risks

Human rights advocates across the US have warned that the executive order and the finalised rule will force asylum seekers back to dangerous situations in their home countries or in Mexican border towns.

Chelsea Sachau, the managing attorney for Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project’s Border Action Team, has worked with asylum seekers on the southern border in Arizona and said the rule would return people to “violence, danger and possibly death”.

“This rule will likely lead to vulnerable families being deported every day to small, remote towns in the [Mexican] state of Sonora that are ruled by cartels and have active violent conflicts occurring in them,” she said during Thursday’s news conference.

Rights groups have long documented the myriad risks migrants and asylum seekers face in Mexican border communities, including torture, sexual violence, extortion, kidnappings and killings.

Sachau also noted that the US port of entry known as Nogales is the only place for about 1,300km (800 miles) in Arizona where asylum seekers can get US immigration appointments through an app known as CBP One.

She said some of her clients have had to wait for seven or eight months, if not longer, for a CBP One appointment — and she warned that the new executive order could lead to even longer wait times.

“People will grow ever more desperate. We’ve seen [with] other border policies that, when people are forced into desperate circumstances, they will be forced to make heart-wrenching decisions,” Sachau said.

“They may feel they need to send their children ahead as unaccompanied minors for their own safety, or they may try to cross the border again — this time in more remote or more dangerous areas.”

Biden’s order, she added, won’t prevent people from taking such journeys in search of safety, but “will beget more border-crossing under more dangerous circumstances”.

Source: Al Jazeera