Last week I traveled to the US-Mexico border to witnessEnd of track 42, the health care law that then-President Donald Trump used as a pretext to achieve his goal of preventing people seeking asylum from exercising their legal right to seek protection in the United States.
Under Section 42, people fleeing persecution because of their race, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group were returned to Mexico or the home country they left, even if their lives were in danger. Somewherekilled on return. Title 42 also forced many asylum seekers to wait in precarious and unsafe conditions in Mexico, the country where I was born. Many of them were affected because of their vulnerability, were subjected to violence, kidnapping and extortion, as were some of my family members who live in Mexico.
When he ran for president, Joe Biden promised to do itrestore the right to asylum. He did the opposite. Yes, his governmentThe first attempt to end Title 42 was stopped by a lawsuitBut since then, the administration appears to have capitulated to anti-immigrant forces by announcing the implementation of policies modeled after Trump's script and having the same effect as Title 42, policies that most people seeking asylum by the southern border, refusing entry to complete the process.
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Biden had a promise to keep. Instead, he followed Trump's example.
If itThe COVID-19 public health emergency ended last week, Biden had the opportunity to fulfill his promise to comply with international and US law and give all asylum seekers a fair chance to apply for asylum. Instead, the Biden administration passed its own asylum ban, nullifying measures the Trump administration wanted to enact but which the courts had blocked.
Biden's asylum ban prevents most people from applying for asylum if they have passed through other countries on their way to the US-Mexico border, unless they have applied in another country and are awaiting a final decision. But how is it for a Honduran citizen like my husband, are they safe to seek asylum in Guatemala or Mexico, countries with barely functioning asylum systems where their own citizens travel north to seek protection?
Biden's ban makes an exception for those who arrive via a port of entry after getting a tight deal through a smartphone application.CBPOne.During my visit to the border, where I went by invitationHaitian Bridge Allianceas a representative ofAmerican Union for Civil LibertiesI have seen firsthand how this phone app reinforces the inequities built into the immigration system that leave the most vulnerable without protection.
You need a smartphone and mobile data to access CBPOne. Is it reasonable to expect someone fleeing their country in fear of their lives to have the money to own a smartphone and mobile data? It was certainly not a reasonable assumption to meet a mother I met in a camp in Matamoros. next to the bridge along the Rio Grande.
When I asked if she was trying to get a CBPOne deal, she explained that her phone was stolen on the way up north, which is common on the 1,500+ mile journey, and she didn't have the money to buy a new one.
Anyone lucky enough to get their hands on a cell phone and get cellular data or free wifi needs to be educated, tech savvy and able to understand how to deal with the error messages they receive on the app in English.
At a shelter in Reynosa with a clear WiFi signal for guests to use, I saw many people trying to secure CBPOne appointments and getting error messages asking them to update the app by saying so. There was a "system error" or that "the request timed out" because "the server took too long to respond," which "may be due to a poor network connection."
Those who submitted the application in Haitian Creole or Spanish received the errors in English and did not know what to do. People were confused and frustrated. One of them asked me, "Why does the richest country on earth make things so difficult for us?"
She had 24 hours to secure an appointment. But the government's phone app didn't work
Since January, many people have been trying to secure an appointment at CBPOne every day. I was able to find a happy applicant who was notified by email that she had an appointment. She was asked to go back to the application to review and collect the details for her appointment. But when she accessed the app, there was no information on how to do it. If she didn't find out within the next 23 hours, her deal would be lost and she would have to go through the lottery-like system again.
It is high time to move away from creating systems designed to deter those running for their lives from using the asylum procedure.
The Biden administration is now touting "deterrence" as one of its key strategies, but how does it make sense to discourage people from exercising a human right protected by international and US law?
Also, the deterrent doesn't work. Imagine you are a mother in Honduras and you receive threats from gangs against you and your family. They know that calling the police is futile as some elements of law enforcement work with the gangs and the institution has shown that it cannot provide the necessary protection. Staying at home is a death sentence. You saw it with your own eyes. You heard the gunshots in your neighborhood. Family members disappeared only to be found dead. A mother running for her life and the lives of her children is not deterred. She will do anything to protect them. A mother on the border told me, "We decided we would rather risk our lives and go north than stay in our country and be killed."
Instead of creating systems that prevent people fleeing for their lives from making their case at the US-Mexico border, we should welcome people seeking asylum with a fair and orderly processsend troops to the border, we should create reception centers where those seeking protection can express their fears, be treated, be released into local networks and be given sufficient time and opportunity to present their case to a lawyer in court, regardless of how they travel to or you entered the United States.
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The government argues that its asylum ban, which includes some narrow categories of exemptions, was created to avoid chaos at the border and ensure people follow legal routes. However, the government's policy has created the conditions that it now wants to resolve.
Relying on a flawed phone application to determine who gets a chance to present their case and who must stay in Mexico for long periods of time in precarious and dangerous conditions hoping for a chance to win a deal, but who never comes to fruition, increases people's desperation and weakens confidence in the system. When there are not enough dates available to meet demand, backlogs and bottlenecks occur at the border. When there are legal avenues that require someone to run for their life, to stay and wait in the country where their life is in danger, the asylum system is ridiculed and human life is devalued.
The right to seek asylum should not be reserved for the chosen few. Instead of becoming more Trumpist with each new immigration policy, President Biden should seize the opportunity to show the world that migration can save lives and enable people to start new ones, can be managed fairly and humanely.
Maribel Hernandez Riverais the Assistant National Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union. She is also a PD Soros grantee and a Public Voices grantee from the OpEd Project.