Within the first six months of Joe Biden’s administration, human rights groups and immigration advocates have recorded more than 3,000 attacks against asylum seekers expelled from the US at its southern border with Mexico.
As of 17 June, Human Rights First has tracked 3,250 incidents of kidnappings, rape, human trafficking and violent armed assaults based on interviews and surveys with asylum seekers and information from humanitarian relief groups and immigration attorneys.
The report updates a lengthy assessment in April from Human Rights First, Haitian Bridge Alliance and Al Otro Lado that identified at least 492 reports of attacks against migrants since 21 January, as advocates point to the Biden administration’s reliance on a public health rule weaponised by Donald Trump that continues to “wreak havoc” on families and the immigration process.
“While the Trump administration’s use of public health authority to evade US refugee law was specious from the outset, the continued misuse of this authority to endanger the lives of people seeking protection is all the more inexcusable and absurd” against the nation’s progress towards combating the coronavirus pandemic, the report found.
“The Biden administration appears to be continuing this illegal policy as an immigration policy tool – to attempt to deter refugees from seeking life-saving asylum protection,” according to the report.
US law provides that anyone entering the country is eligible to apply for asylum, a form of humanitarian protection for those fleeing violence and persecution from their home countries.
But the former president’s invocation of Title 42 effectively suspended asylum laws, leading to the immediate expulsions of thousands of asylum seekers since the onset of the public health crisis.
While the administration has revoked a Trump-era policy that forced asylum seekers to remain in dangerous shelters on the other side of the border while processing their asylum claims, US border enforcement agencies have recorded more than 400,000 expulsions under Title 42 within the last six months, according to data from US Customs and Border Protection.
A vast majority of those cases involve Central American migrants.
A recently announced initiative to begin processing asylum claims is “insufficient to protect families and individuals seeking protection at the southern border,” according to the report, adding that the Biden administration’s asylum provisions are not in compliance with “refugee laws or obligations under refugee treaties” and “inaccessible to people unaware of or without access” to humanitarian groups selected by the administration to help process those cases.
The organisation points to a United Nations Refugee Agency statement urging officials “to restore access to asylum for the people whose lives depend on it, in line with international legal and human rights obligations.”
The Independent has requested comment from the White House and DHS.
Between January 2019 and January 2021, border officials expelled more than 70,000 asylum seekers and migrants to Mexican border camps under Migrant Protection Protocols, the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy under the previous administration, forcing them to wait for months or years while their cases languished.
While the administration begins processing claims for thousands of migrants, released to their communities and families in the US as their cases are adjudicated, Human Rights First warns that countless others may have been removed because of procedural errors or due process violations under the Trump administration.
Vice President Kamala Harris has travelled to Mexico and Guatemala to broker agreements to combat human trafficking and drug smuggling while providing economic support to struggling families forced to flee their homes for the US, as the southern border sees a spike in migration fuelled by the violence, the climate crisis and two hurricanes in 2020, and drained economies in the fallout from the pandemic.
In remarks from Mexico earlier this month, she argued that to address the impact of migration on the nation’s southern border, “we have to have the ability to address the root causes of why people leave, and we have to understand – if it is a priority to us to be concerned with what is happening at our border, then it must be a priority for us to understand why people leave”.
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