A Shameful Record: Biden Administration’s Use of Trump Policies Endangers People Seeking Asylum
Now nearly one year into President Biden’s term, his administration continues to implement and expand illegal and deadly Trump administration policies that prevent people from seeking asylum at U.S. ports of entry and along the border and turn them away to grave, widespread dangers. The administration’s use of these policies – known as Title 42 and Remain in Mexico – has perpetuated their inherent cruelty, disorder, and the racist tropes in which they are rooted. The result is a shameful record of human suffering. Since the Biden administration took office, Human Rights First has tracked over 8,705 reports of kidnappings and other violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers blocked in and/or expelled to Mexico by the United States government.
Despite lifting other pandemic-related international travel restrictions, the Biden administration continues to embrace Stephen Miller’s policy of misusing Title 42 of the U.S. Code to block asylum seekers from requesting protection at U.S. ports of entry and to expel people seeking refuge without access to the U.S. asylum system. The administration is defending the expulsion policy in federal court, with the next hearing in a lawsuit challenging expulsions of families at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals set for January 19, 2022. The Biden administration bears full responsibility for its rampant use and continued defense of the illegal Title 42 policy, which it is has wielded now for longer and to expel more people than President Trump.
In December 2021, the Biden administration also began to return Cuban, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan and other asylum seekers and migrants to Mexico under an expanded “Remain in Mexico” (RMX) policy. Already Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have returned asylum seekers to danger in Mexico where they had been kidnapped and tortured. While DHS was ordered by a federal court to restart RMX – after two attempts to administratively terminate it – the Biden administration chose to expand the nationalities potentially subject to this deadly policy. In a December 2021 letter, dozens of members of Congress condemned RMX’s reimplementation and urged the administration to reverse its expansion.
Sending asylum seekers to Mexico places them in grave danger. Both Mexican authorities and brutal cartels target them for kidnapping, torture, extortion, and other heinous violence – human rights abuses that are fueled by illegal U.S. policies that turn away people seeking U.S. protection to danger in Mexico. Human Rights First previously tracked 1,544 reports of kidnappings and attacks, including two murders, against individuals returned to Mexico under RMX during the Trump administration.
The Title 42 and RMX policies flout domestic and international refugee protection obligations. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees recently repeated his call for an end to Title 42 expulsions, noting that these expulsions “often result in chain deportations that can expose people to grave risks.” In response to the reimplementation of RMX, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) stated that “the announced adjustments to the policy are not sufficient to address [UNHCR’s] fundamental concerns” about the safety and due process rights of asylum seekers subjected to RMX.
For this report, Human Rights First researchers conducted in person and remote interviews with migrants and asylum seekers, attorneys, shelter and other humanitarian staff, Mexican government officials, and legal monitors. Researchers monitored the implementation of RMX in Ciudad Juárez in person in December 2021 and interviewed 18 of the individuals returned under RMX. Additional interviews of migrants and asylum seekers blocked in or expelled to Mexico due to Title 42 were conducted by telephone between December 2021 and January 2022 and in person in Tijuana in November 2021. The report draws on data from an electronic survey of asylum seekers in Mexico conducted by Al Otro Lado between September 2021 and December 2021, data and information provided by Mexican migration officials, legal complaints, media sources, and other human rights reports.
This report is an update on prior research on the RMX and Title 42 policies by Human Rights First in February 2019, August 2019, October 2019, December 2019, January 2020, May 2020, December 2020, April 2021 (with Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance), May 2021 (with RAICES and Interfaith Welcome Coalition), June 2021, July 2021 (with Hope Border Institute), August 2021, October 2021, November 2021 (with Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project), and December 2021.
Recommendations to end Title 42 expulsions, resume the wind down of the Remain in Mexico policy, and restore access to asylum at U.S. ports of entry and along the southern border can be found at the end of this report and in Human Rights First’s recent recommendations paper for the administration.