USA | Feb 23, 2023

Biden tightens the screws at US-Mexico border

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Plan bars most migrants, who hadn’t sought asylum in other countries first

The US flag is seen at the Cordova Americas border bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (File Photo: REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez)

The Biden administration has just unveiled a plan to deter asylum seekers at the American-Mexican border, a route which is popularly being taken by Jamaicans and others seeking to enter the United States.

The plan could bar tens of thousands of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border from claiming asylum is considered as the most wide-ranging attempt yet by the incumbent administration to deter unauthorized crossings. Under the new rules, the US would generally deny asylum to migrants, who show up at the US southern border without first seeking protection in a country they passed through.

This plan by Biden mirrors an attempt by his predecessor, Donald Trump that never took effect because it was blocked in court. The plan, which was posted online yesterday, stopped short of a total ban but it imposes severe limitations on asylum for people of any nationality except Mexicans, who don’t have to travel through a third country to reach the US.

It will be subject to a 30-day public comment period before it can be formally adopted. The plan would also be temporary and limited to a period of two years with the possibility of extension.

Details of the plan

The plan establishes “a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility” for anyone, who passes through another country to reach the US border with Mexico without first seeking protection there. Exceptions will be made for people with an “acute medical emergency”, “imminent and extreme threat” of violent crimes such as murder, rape or kidnapping, being a victim of human trafficking or “other extremely compelling circumstances.

Based on the proposed rules children traveling alone will also be exempted. The plan is almost certain to face legal challenges given that Trump pursued a similar ban in 2019 but a federal appeals court prevented it from taking effect.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) vowed to fight the Biden rule in court, comparing it to the Trump restriction, which was dubbed a “transit ban” by activists. Interestingly, Biden, a Democrat, who took office in 2021 and is expected to seek re-election in 2024, initially pledged to restore asylum access that was curtailed under his Republican predecessor.

Migrants seeking asylum in the United States grab onto a rope to guide them through the current while crossing the Rio Grande river into Mexico near the International Bridge between Mexico and the US in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. (File Photo: REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

Some advocates and some fellow Democrats have criticised him for increasingly embracing Trump-style restrictions, as he has struggled to cope with record numbers of arriving migrants.

“We successfully sued to block the Trump transit ban and will sue again if the Biden administration goes through with its plan,” declared Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney who argued the Trump-era lawsuit.

Migrants seeking refuge in United States cross the Rio Grande river back into Acuna, Mexico as seen from Del Rio, Texas, U.S. (File Photo: REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

For her part, Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California College of the Law, San Francisco argued that the Biden proposal ignored dangerous conditions and limited asylum capacity in transit countries where migrants would be expected to seek protection.

“It’s a terrible example of trying to flout your domestic and international legal obligations,” she posited.

The Biden administration began discussing the ban and other Trump-style measures last year as a way to reduce illegal crossings if pandemic-era restrictions allowing many migrants to be expelled back to Mexico ended.


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