Over the last four years, the Trump administration’s increasingly restrictive immigration policies have drastically limited access to U.S. humanitarian protection pathways, blocked access to territory for asylum seekers, and deployed inhumane treatment as a mode of deterrence. Combined with the marked increase in forced displacement in Mexico and Central America and a reduction of U.S. aid to the region, these policies have severely exacerbated the preexisting humanitarian crisis.

The administration must be prepared to take bold action in its first 100 days by surging humanitarian assistance to both sides of the border, including COVID-19 response; rapidly restoring protections to vulnerable people seeking safety; and creating a credible rapid response infrastructure to process asylum seekers in an orderly manner that ensures dignity, safety, and recognition of rights for all. It must also expand processing from the region, work to protect migrants in transit, and address root causes of forced displacement throughout the Americas.

A competent and protection-forward asylum system is a matter of political will and policy. If the Biden administration gets it right, the U.S. will be a beacon of hope and can credibly urge the international community to step up and share responsibility worldwide. If not, the consequences will be measured in lives lost and in regional and political instability.