An unlawful policy called Title 42 has been used more than 2.4 million times to block asylum seekers and expel migrants at the southern border. For almost three years, the Trump-era policy has effectively halted long-standing asylum law by baselessly using the Covid-19 pandemic to close the US border to those seeking protection. Under the Trump and Biden administrations, this cruel and unjust policy led to the expulsions of tens of thousands of migrants, a disproportionate number of whom are Black and Brown. While the rule used the guise of public health, it was rooted in xenophobia, designed to stoke fear and deny asylum seekers the right to dignity, safety, and the preservation of the family unit.
LIRS firmly opposes the use of Title 42 and efforts to expand its enforcement by policymakers. In written testimony to Congress in April 2021, LIRS pointed out how, as implemented, Title 42 became a de facto family separation policy. LIRS leadership also highlighted the policy’s disparate impact on Black immigrants, particularly Haitians.
We unequivocally affirm the legal right of individuals to seek protection at our borders and urge the Biden administration to rebuild and restore a humane and just asylum process. However, returning to the status quo is not enough to meet this moment and to acknowledge the tremendous pain and suffering that many have endured. We must do better!
What does “better” mean, though?
Recommendations on Restoring Refuge and Reimagining Welcome
First and foremost, it is critical that we never again allow an esoteric public health law to be weaponized against vulnerable individuals seeking protective asylum. Using the guise of public health to carry out an extrajudicial immigration policy only deepens the wounds of xenophobia and racism that have plagued our immigration system. Unfortunately, this is not the first incident in United States history of using “public health” to exclude immigrants. This should end with the termination of this policy.
What should refuge post-Title 42 look like?
LIRS envisions a just, fair, and orderly humanitarian protection system that does not discriminate against who has access to and receives protection. Such a system would honor the dignity of the protection-seeking person, protect the sanctity of the family, and avoid criminalizing or penalizing people for exercising their God-given and enumerated legal rights. To this end, we call on the administration to:
- Restore access to asylum for all who seek safety and are in need of protection, as consistent with U.S. codified law and international agreements.
- Develop a safe, humane, and orderly process that honors the dignity of the protection-seeking migrant and their legal right to ask for protection at the southern border.
- Drastically increase the processing capacity and begin processing asylum-seekers at facilities that are safe, appropriately staffed, and avoid overcrowding.
- Coordinate with faith-based and community partners at the border and the interior who are called by their traditions and eager to welcome and support asylum-seekers.
- Ensure resources and facilities at the border acknowledge and respect the dignity and diversity of people seeking safety and are equipped to provide culturally proficient information and services in multiple languages.
- Significantly increase access to legal services and capacity in the immigration system including increasing the number of asylum officers and judges.
- End the use of private prisons to detain people awaiting their asylum hearing and, instead, implement community-based models that are less expensive, safer, and more humane.
- Ensure that asylum seekers have timely access to work permits so that they may sustain themselves while their cases are being processed.
Why do we welcome refugees?
Scriptures offer guidance on how we are to treat our new neighbors:
- So you also must love the foreigner, since you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)
- The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
- I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Matthew 25:31-40)
These core teachings have shaped LIRS’s mission, vision, and values and serve as a guide for our daily work to protect migrants and refugees. Rooted in faith, LIRS believes that we are called to protect all those fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in the United States. For over 80 years, we have welcomed over 500,000 migrants in need of protection with compassion and care.
In addition to our faith teachings, our nation’s laws and international agreements have codified into our institutions the values we hold sacred, including the call to protect people in fear of persecution and death. U.S. law defines a “refugee” as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. Further, the United States is obligated to recognize valid claims for asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The United States has also signed on to the UN’s Convention Against Torture, affirming our duty not to return a person to a state where they may face torture or other serious harm.
At times, our country has fallen short of honoring these obligations. In 1939, the United States and Cuba denied entry to over 900 passengers of the S.S. St. Louis, almost all of them Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany. The boat, unable to find sanctuary, would ultimately return to Europe, and more than a quarter of its passengers subsequently died in Nazi concentration camps. On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13769, lowering the number of refugees to be admitted to 50,000, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days, and suspended the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely.
While our country’s reputation as a global leader in human rights suffers the stains of these shameful decisions, we have also risen to the moment and saved millions of lives such as in the case of Vietnamese, Laotians, Kosovars, and Afghans. It is in these moments that the U.S. has stepped up to provide protection for vulnerable groups through robust resettlement to the U.S. These instances show Americans and the world that the U.S. does have the capacity to step up as a leader in human rights. The question is, will we rise to the occasion and rebuild and restore our asylum system, a program built in the crucible of the Cold War?
Join us in calling on the administration to rebuild and restore humanitarian protections.