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Press Release

IRC: President Biden must break from policies of criminalization of asylum

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As public indignation of the treatment of Haitian asylum-seekers at the US-Mexico border runs high, the IRC condemns the Biden Administration’s ongoing expulsions at the southwest border that put thousands of lives at risk. Earlier this year, the Biden Administration announced plans and blueprints with ambitious policy goals but has shown little progress toward building a fair and humane asylum system. The IRC is calling on the Administration to break from the policy of criminalizing individuals and families seeking safety from persecution and violence at the U.S. border, including:

  • Failure to end the use of the Title 42 public health rule to expel people to dangers they’re fleeing in the first place without any due process and despite comment from Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci that immigrants are not the driving force of COVID spread;
  • Restarting MPP instead of issuing a new memo to terminate it, which sends individuals seeking protection to dangerous conditions and blocks their access to legal counsel;
  • An expansion of immigration detention facilities and skyrocketing number of people in ICE detention waiting for months without due process, despite ICE facilities’ documented inability to ensure public health protocols and maintain sanitary conditions for detainees, including conducting regular COVID-19 testing; 
  • Expulsion of asylum-seekers at the U.S. southern border on flights to unfamiliar areas in Mexico, prioritizing attempted deterrence over safety;
  • Established an accelerated docket for asylum-seeking families before establishing legal and case management support, leaving individuals to navigate a complex legal system without the resources to support their case; And 
  • Introduced new enforcement guidelines that emphasize border security without the safeguards needed to ensure access to asylum for people who are in vulnerable situations.

Based on decades of experience welcoming newcomers in the U.S. and experience with refugees across the globe, the IRC knows that it is possible to create a safe and orderly system through a robust government response, partnerships with community-based organizations and NGOs that can rapidly scale up support, and collaboration among the countries along the migration corridors to guarantee people's dignity and safety regardless of their nationality. 

Olga Byrne, Director of Immigration for the IRC, said:

“For every step forward the Biden Administration has taken on asylum, it takes two steps backward. Despite commitments President Biden has made, the U.S. is ten months into the current administration without seeing a substantial shift: of those who arrive in search of safety, many are expelled to conditions they were escaping from, others are held in detention with no explanation or recourse, and promises to promote access to legal counsel and community-based services have not been fulfilled. 

“The Blueprint announced by the White House lays out important steps toward a more functional and humane asylum system by decreasing the immigration court backlog and promoting other due process and protection improvements, but it entirely fails to mention the end of expulsions at the border and a commitment to decreasing immigration detention. There is no mention of alternatives to detention, and support for legal services is inadequate despite shorter timetables for adjudication. 

“The Biden Administration has so far demonstrated a lack of will to dismantle a broken and brutal system exacerbated by the previous Administration and replace it with a system centered on dignity and protection. These harmful policies remaining in place yield horrific outcomes like Border Patrol riding on horseback intimidating Haitian asylum-seekers from exercising their right to seek asylum, followed by the expulsion of almost 10,000 Haitians in just a few weeks.

“The IRC calls on the Biden Administration to replace ‘detention’ with ‘dignity’ at the core of its asylum policy. It can do this by implementing a community-based humanitarian reception program that ensures asylum-seekers receive a dignified welcome, provides asylum seekers with protection-centered case management that ensures they have the resources and information they need to be safe and well as they await the adjudication of their claims for safety, and expanding access to the legal support they need to ensure that they can meaningfully pursue their claim. An enforcement-heavy approach is simply not necessary to achieve safe and orderly border processes--and detention is exceedingly costly to taxpayers.” 

The IRC provides case management, humanitarian reception, and legal assistance to tens of thousands of asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, and other vulnerable people seeking protection in the U.S. each year. The IRC and its partners have provided over 26,000 individuals with emergency humanitarian reception services at its Phoenix Welcome Center in 2021 alone. In Latin America, the IRC served more than 160,000 clients in 2020, delivering responses to the crisis in Venezuela, to countries in northern Central America, and along the migration corridors in Mexico. 

The IRC calls on the Biden Administration to shift to a protection-forward, dignity-centered asylum system and continues to call on U.S. Congress to pass legislation, like the Refugee Protection Act, that would strengthen and expand protections for those in need of safe haven, and to implement a migration framework that would address the root causes of migration at countries of origin. 

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.