For several months, the Biden Administration has committed to ending a Trump-era border policy, known as Title 42, that has sent tens of thousands of people seeking asylum into life-threatening situations. Put in place in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic under the auspices of public health, Title 42 has now been dismissed as unnecessary by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while Doctors Without Borders asserts that it has never had a basis in public health.
On October 12th, instead of fulfilling months of promises to end the measure, the Biden Administration announced that they would be expanding Title 42 to prevent Venezuelan nationals who seek asylum from gaining access to safety. Venezuelan migrants were previously exempt from Title 42, because the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with the Venezuelan government and cannot legally expel people there. The Biden Administration now plans to expel Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Cubans to Mexico, where they will face grave danger and possible death as they are forced to live in the shadows. They began by expelling hundreds of Venezuelans into Mexico over this past weekend.
Seeking asylum – including by crossing a border without documentation and then declaring one’s fear to return to their country of origin – is a human right enshrined in U.S. and international law. In a time when masks are no longer required in indoor spaces, the notion that the Biden Administration is justified in denying access to these rights under the guise of the COVID pandemic is a ludicrous cover for an attempt to win political points at the expense of human lives.
In Vermont and Western New Hampshire, eight community groups work together to sponsor, resettle, and support asylum seekers from all over the world: Central America, the Caribbean, the African continent, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. With the help of volunteers all over the state, we have provided housing, legal aid, and other crucial services to 175 asylum seekers over the last five years. We have seen asylum seekers forced into much more dangerous border crossings because of Title 42. The measure disproportionately affects Black asylum seekers, who are among the most likely to be deported: President Biden has already denied the asylum rights of tens of thousands of Haitians, many of them babies and toddlers, and sent them directly into harm’s way. It also disproportionately endangers LGBTQ asylum seekers when they are illegally deported – sometimes to their deaths – by Title 42.
At the same time as it expands Title 42 to block Venezuelan immigration, the Biden Administration is covering its tracks by establishing a small humanitarian parole program for a select number of Venezuelans with contacts in the U.S. who can financially support them for two years. To qualify for this program, Venezuelans must not only be well-connected and have a valid passport, which in today’s Venezuela is impossible to obtain for all but the wealthy, but must also be able to afford a plane ticket and prove that they have never attempted to enter the U.S. through Central America or Mexico. Afro-Venezuelans in particular, who are more likely to be poor and low-income, will now face insurmountable barriers to seeking safety for themselves and their families.
The Biden Administration’s simultaneous and contradictory actions with regard to asylum access are a flimsy cover for the truth: in an attempt to win political capital with anti-immigrant voters, they have violated international law and sent tens of thousands of people into danger. Connections to financial support in the United States should never be a prerequisite for saving one’s own life, and this policy will deepen the inequities already suffered by marginalized groups of asylum seekers.
Our regional community-based asylum support system is doing everything we can to be ready and willing to welcome asylum seekers from any country, any race, who are fleeing for their lives. It is time for the Biden Administration to move away from the door and uphold its legal and moral obligations to asylum seekers. We encourage readers to call the White House comment line at 202-456-6213, and demand an end to Title 42.
Community Asylum Seekers Project (Brattleboro, VT)
Bridge to Rutland (Rutland, VT)
Chittenden Asylum Seekers Assistance Network (Burlington, VT)
Randolph Area Asylum Seeker Support (Randolph VT)
Project Home (Keene, NH)
Supporting and Helping Asylees & Refugees (Norwich, VT)
Central Vermont Refugee Action Network (Montpelier, VT)
Northeast Kingdom Asylum Seekers Assistance Network (St. Johnsbury, VT)