New U.S. Border Policy Is A Threat To Migrant Rights

“We can’t stop people from making the journey, but we can require that they come here in an orderly way under U.S. law”. On 5th January, 2023, the Biden administration announced its new immigration policy, which many advocates believe will make the process more difficult for asylum seekers at the United States (U.S.) border. Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans seeking temporary protection are allowed entry based on this new policy.

Those seeking protection would have to apply prior to entering the U.S., and approximately 30,000 individuals from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Haiti would be allowed to enter the U.S every month for two years. Alongside this new policy, Biden’s administration announced that they will be changing the use of the public health order Title 42, which was introduced at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic to control migration. The hope for this strategy is to reduce illegal border crossings.

The new policy requires asylum seekers to pursue asylum protections in the countries that they are passing through first. This echoes the transit ban, that former President Donald Trump attempted to introduce, however was nullified in February of 2021. The majority of those seeking asylum in the U.S. present themselves at the border, and therefore this new policy makes it increasingly difficult for them to do so.

Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expresses how this new policy threatens the foundations of human rights and refugee law. There exist concerns that this new policy will lead to collective expulsions and deportations as a collective, without individual needs being assessed. The President announced that migrants would face immediate expulsion if the southern border was crossed unlawfully. Furthermore, a new requirement to seek asylum in the US is the prerequisite of having a financial sponsor in the U.S. Ravina Shamdasani, the High Commissioner’s spokesperson, fears that “those who are most vulnerable would not be in a position to provide that”. Concerns seem valid, as these measures will exclude desperate and destitute migrants, who might not have the means to connect to the U.S. This will likely limit their ability to find U.S. citizens to sponsor them. The changes to Title 42 are feared to be detrimental to the rights of asylum seekers and refugees also. Shamdasani explains how this “public health order” will be expanded to authorise mass expulsions to Mexico to return to their country of origin, without assessing their individual need for protection or risk they face when returning. Those who cannot be processed under Title 42 would be rendered ineligible for asylum if they failed to apply for protection from passing states such as Mexico.

Earlier this week, the first group of migrants entered the U.S. under the new sponsorship immigration process. Ten migrants entered under this programme, with six hundred additional migrants vetted and approved to enter into the U.S. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have received thousands of applications from those wishing to be sponsors from within the U.S. Those who are successful under the new sponsorship initiative will be granted a status that means under humanitarian or public interest grounds, migrants can legally live and work in the U.S.

Illegal border crossings have dropped since the introduction of these measures. A member of the Department of Homeland Security reported that there is a decrease in daily migrant apprehensions by 3,000 since November.

Concerns from advocates seem to be valid. On a surface level, this new policy seems to be making progress towards a more tolerant attitude towards migrants and asylum seekers in the US, creating more options for those attempting to enter the U.S. However, it is more limiting than it seems. Along with this policy comes an increased risk to vulnerable migrants, with a greater risk of expulsion and non-refoulment, and a lack of focus on migrants who are not in a position to acquire sponsor from the U.S.