What you need to know about asylum seekers and migrant buses | LIRS
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What you need to know about asylum seekers and migrant buses

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Migrant busing continues sending asylum seekers to sanctuary jurisdictions. Despite the challenges that have come with this unexpected influx of new arrivals, communities across the nation have shown radical welcome and hospitality to their new neighbors.

Why is migrant busing happening?  

Three Republican governors—Governor Greg Abbot of Texas, Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona, and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida—have transported asylum seekers by bus and/or plane to sanctuary cities and traditionally Democratic locations including Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Martha’s Vineyard.  

Busing migrants continues to be a political stunt intended to call attention to the high numbers of arrivals at the Southern border and the so-called “border crisis.” The governors claim that by sending migrants to sanctuary jurisdictions, they are lightening the burden on red states and sending migrants where they will be more welcome. 

Unfortunately, receiving communities were not given advance notice of the migrants’ arrivals, and in some cases, migrants were intentionally misled about where they were going and what opportunities awaited them at their destinations. Cities, too, have struggled to accommodate the unplanned arrivals.  

The governors’ actions have received considerable backlash and prompted legal action. Lawyers have sought an injunction preventing future flights, while Massachusetts is seeking a federal human trafficking probe, and a TX sheriff has opened a criminal investigation

How were migrants received in Martha’s Vineyard? 

When a group of migrants arrived by plane to Martha’s Vineyard, they quickly realized that they had been deceived by false promises of employment, housing, and more in Boston. Martha’s Vineyard has been in the news for the warm welcome their community provided to migrants who unexpectedly ended up in their community. Despite the challenges that have come with this unexpected influx of new arrivals, communities across the nation have shown radical welcome and hospitality to their new neighbors.  

Who are asylum seekers?

Asylum seekers are those who have fled their country of origin and are unable to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.  

Unlike refugees, they do not apply from abroad. They are exercising their legal right to seek asylum – which actually requires that they apply at a port of entry or from the interior of the United States.   

Historically, refugees have benefited from a robust infrastructure that supports their integration in the United States, including access to state benefits and a pathway to citizenship. However, asylum seekers and other forced migrants – who often come from the same countries of origin and have experienced similar persecution as refugees – face a multitude of systematic challenges and find themselves at risk of deportation back to the danger they fled.   

Upon release from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody, these individuals and families must immediately determine where they will settle in the United States, find temporary shelter, and arrange travel to their destination with little to no government assistance. Once they arrive in their final destination, asylum seekers juggle a multitude of intersecting needs – securing stable and affordable housing, enrolling children in school, managing physical and mental health, and obtaining basic necessities – all while managing the complexities of their ongoing legal cases. 

They must navigate a new culture and society, hesitant to pursue the few services for which they were eligible, due to fear of jeopardizing their immigration status. All of these factors leave asylum seekers and other forced migrants at increased risk of trafficking, exploitation, social isolation, and economic insecurity.  

Why do migrants flee their own country and seek asylum?  

Unspeakable violence, extreme persecution, and the severe impacts of climate change are forcing families from around the world to flee their homes in record numbers. From El Salvador and Ukraine to Afghanistan, Haiti, Venezuela, and beyond, families embark on long and dangerous journeys to seek protection in the US because they have no other choice.  

Gang violence remains one of the major reasons why people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala flee their homelands. Many families live under constant threat of retaliation from gangs or authoritarian governments.  

What does it mean for migrants to seek asylum?  

People come to the United States to seek asylum, hoping to get protection from potential persecution, human rights violations, and oppression due to race, political opinion, nationality, or religion.  

According to U.S. law, people who fear harm or persecution in their home nations can apply for asylum. If granted, this status gives them the protection they seek. In addition, they are granted the right to stay within U.S. territory and will be called asylees and resettled under the U.S. Resettlement Program. When an individual is granted asylum, that person can stay in the United States without fear of getting deported.    

The term “right of asylum” is also referred to as the “right of political asylum.” The U.S. government recognizes an individual’s right to asylum, specified under federal and international law. Therefore, the federal government will consider candidates based on any fear of persecution that applicants may have. 

People around the world are persecuted for various reasons, such as: 

  • Religion 
  • Race 
  • Political opinion 
  • Nationality 
  • Social group membership 

What should we know about asylum seekers in the United States? 

People seeking asylum in the United States come from many different parts of the world, and every person has their own stories, families, and dreams. Many people claiming asylum come from the Northern Triangle, a region in Central America including Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Additionally, the past couple of years have seen increasing numbers of people claiming asylum from places such as China, Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, India, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Brazil in addition to Afghanistan and Ukraine.   

Sometimes families are split apart as they flee for their safety, sometimes parents don’t survive the journey, and sometimes children flee alone. These unaccompanied children find a safe and welcoming environment in the care of LIRS.  

Many who are forced to flee, including unaccompanied children, face a threat of harm or persecution according to one or more of the five categories mentioned earlier, but may also find themselves displaced on account of factors like natural economic conditions, various forms of social instability, and increasing frequencies of natural disasters attributable to climate change. Those same people who are forced to flee face not only violence or persecution at home, but also a dangerous journey, often with risks of further violence and human trafficking.  

Is it legal to cross the US southern border to seek asylum? 

Under U.S. and international law, seeking asylum is legal under any circumstance. Every year, families from Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala seek safety and new beginnings in the United States.  

Most people try to claim asylum in the United States at the border separating the U.S. and Mexico. Though they have already made a difficult and dangerous journey to the border, some are immediately turned away. Until recently, many were held on the Mexican side of the border, placed in dangerous and cartel-run areas of Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols with little support from the United States.  Many more are immediately taken into custody and are held in immigration detention.   

Though it is an international humanitarian right to seek asylum, these U.S. responses to asylum seekers put our vulnerable neighbors at high risk for homelessness, gender-based violence, and kidnapping, exacerbating their traumatic journey. 

Title 42 – How it impacts asylum seekers and immigration  

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the previous administration used an obscure public health order called Title 42 to indiscriminately expel migrants seeking protection at the southern border without allowing people to exercise the right to claim asylum. While the policy has since been amended to allow the entry of unaccompanied minors not from Mexico, the United States has still expelled 15,900 unaccompanied children under Title 42.   

On November 15, 2022, U.S. Judge Emmet Sullivan voided the Title 42 order that has allowed U.S. border officials to quickly expel migrants, finding it “arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.” We look forward to the end of a policy which has led to mass border expulsions of migrants without any due process under the guise of a public health order. This will have lifesaving implications for people seeking safety, and represents a vital step towards restoring asylum.

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 at our Southern border the right to dignity, safety, and the preservation of the family unit.

LIRS welcomes the Court’s decision to end Title 42 and has not been alone in condemning this policy. Legislators from both parties, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Black-led and human rights organizations across the world agree that Title 42 is in violation of international and domestic laws. As the administration begins preparations to end the shameful use of Title 42, we urge President Biden to quickly comply with the Court’s Order and rebuild and restore a humane, just asylum process without the use of immigration detention. 

Immigration detention

Even with the end of Title 42 on the horizon, the likely outcome for many people seeking asylum in the United States at this time is immigration detention: they and their families are subjected to prison-like conditions for indefinite periods of time while their cases are determined. These conditions do little to support people fleeing violence and persecution, people who have already experienced immense trauma, and people separated from family members.   

Moreover, this reality has historically proved particularly difficult for families with children claiming asylum who are placed in family detention. Family detention in the U.S. refers to the detention practice of confining immigrant mothers and children in large confinement facilities while separating older male family members for prolonged, sometimes indefinite, periods of time with limited access to social, medical, or legal services.   

While the practice of family detention has been made less common by the Biden administration last December (right after last year’s Hope for the HolidaysTM season), LIRS continues to serve families and children through our more than 109 Child and Family Services locations while advocating for alternatives to detention and stronger support for families and children seeking asylum, through a new LIRS initiative: LIRS Welcome Centers.   

What is next for immigration reform in 2022?  

The United States needs comprehensive immigration reform. LIRS advocates for common-sense policy solutions to mitigate processing issues at the border. LIRS recommends the following:  

  • Rebuild and improve the asylum system through (a) increased processing, legal, and adjudication capacity, (b) the institution of case management and community-based alternatives to detention, and (c) immediate access to work permits.  
  • Expand in-country regional capacity for adults and families by (a) expanding access to and streamlining the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for Latin Americans by expediting processing through improved technology and increased resources, and (b) promptly restarting and expanding family reunification parole programs, particularly for Cuban and Haitian populations, that allow populations to safely process in-country and avoid the treacherous journey to the southern border. 
  • Expand in-country capacity to help children who would otherwise cross the southern border unaccompanied, to reunify with family in the U.S. by expediting processing through the Central American Minors program.  
  • Fully utilize employment-based nonimmigrant and immigrant visa programs, increasing access and efficiency in processing visas while ensuring worker protections and providing much-needed workforce support for U.S. employers. 
  • Advance bipartisan solutions in Congress to (a) remove barriers to lawful permanent residency, (b) authorize visa recapture for unused visas, (c) improve border security using innovative technology, and (d) pass immigration bills with strong support (such as efforts to provide visas for doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, recertify and employ immigrants with international degrees or credentials).  
  • Address drivers of displacement such as climate change through immediate- and long-term strategies and designate countries that have become unsafe for Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure.  

How can I support asylum seekers?  

LIRS Welcome Centers provide much-needed support for people seeking protection and provide a model for national-level services. People seeking protection are often unable to access the critical services and assistance they need. The children and adults seeking safety via asylum or humanitarian parole face a US immigration system that is ill-equipped to help them. 

LIRS Welcome Centers provide protection-centered and trauma-informed case management services to asylum seekers and those arriving through humanitarian parole, including: 

  • A service plan within one month of enrollment, tailored to their individual needs. 
  • Mental health screening and referral to mental health and psychosocial support through internal services where available, as well as external referrals. 
  • Connection to community health providers to address any health issues. 
  • Legal services, including know-your rights support, guidance to secure legal counsel, and support in obtaining assistance with applications where needed. 
  • Connection to community-based resources for which they are eligible, such as food banks, volunteer services, and faith communities. 
  • Education services, including school enrollment for school-age children, and access to youth and adult education programming, including English classes. 
  • Emergency food, housing, and financial assistance. 

We believe these services must be available in every major U.S. city and advocate for large-scale implementation of the Welcome Center model and national case management for people seeking protection. 

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