WASHINGTON, United States —President Joe Biden’s administration proposed tough new restrictions on asylum seekers Tuesday, saying it wanted to head off a rush of migrants to the southern border when Covid-related controls are lifted.
The new rules say migrants who arrive at the border and simply cross into the United States will no longer be eligible for asylum.
Instead they have to first go through the process of applying online through a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) app, or apply first for asylum in one of the countries they pass through to get to the US border.
Those processes could potentially be extremely onerous for the 200,000 people who try to cross the border from Mexico to the United States each month.
Most are from Central and South America, and cite poverty and violence back home in requesting asylum.
Migrant rights advocates immediately blasted the new rules as inhumane and illegal, and said they resembled the tough asylum bans announced by former president Donald Trump in 2018-2019, which were eventually overruled by courts.
But the Biden administration said that, in the absence of action from Congress, this is the only way to deal with the border.
“This administration will not allow mass chaos and disorder at the border because of Congress’s failure to act,” an official said on grounds of anonymity.
The new rules apply a system already in practice for migrants from Ukraine, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti, who are required to apply through the CBP One app and arrange an appointment with immigration officials.
If they don’t, they are disqualified from seeking asylum.
The rules are still tentative pending a 30-day comment period.
But an official said they will be put into place when the current Title 42 program — which uses Covid-19 pandemic controls to tightly restrict immigration — is lifted. That is expected on May 11.
“We are strengthening the availability of legal, orderly pathways for migrants to come to the United States, at the same time proposing new consequences on those who fail to use processes made available to them by the United States and its regional partners,” said Department of Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas, in a statement.
Officials said the new rules were temporary and would expire after 24 months, but did not say what would replace them.
Pro-migrant groups condemned the new measure, comparing it to Trump’s moves to make it nearly impossible to enter the United States on an asylum request.
“This sweeping asylum ban will shut the door to countless refugees seeking safety and protection in the United States,” said Abby Maxman, president of Oxfam America.
“This policy is illegal, immoral, and will exact a frightening human toll on children, women, and men seeking safety,” she said.
Obligation to protect migrants
The American Civil Liberties Union said that the impact will be to “unlawfully deny” asylum to people seeking to enter the United States from Mexico.
It said the CBP One app has not worked consistently for the limited number of migrants already directed to use it.
“This asylum ban is, at its core, Trump’s asylum ban under a different name,” said ACLU official Anu Joshi.
Four Democratic senators said they were “deeply disappointed” with the new rules, which they said “only perpetuates the harmful myth that asylum seekers are a threat to this nation.”
“We have an obligation to protect vulnerable migrants under domestic and international law and should not leave vulnerable migrants stranded in countries unable to protect them,” senators Bob Menendez, Cory Booker, Ben Ray Lujan, and Alex Padilla said in a statement. — Agence France-Presse
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