In an interview published Monday, December 21, 2020, senior incoming Biden Administration officials Jake Sullivan and Ambassador Susan Rice outlined a new policy approach regarding the flow of refugees and migrants from Central America.
As Ambassador Rice characterized it, the Biden administration has “a transformative vision for addressing migration in our region and establishing a fair, humane, and orderly immigration system … The long-term plan is centered on three pillars, which we believe will enhance order, safety, and security at our border and across the region.”
This is the right approach at the right time. America needs to leave Trump’s cruelty and chaos in the rearview mirror and construct a fair, workable and sustainable. Some key points:
Refugees are welcome in America
At its best, America is a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution and violence. Throughout our history we have welcomed those who come to America for freedom, safety and opportunity, and we have become stronger for it. Trump’s cruelty reduced the number of asylum seekers admitted, but did so at a terrible cost — to refugees, to their families in America, and to the kind of nation we tell ourselves and the world we are. It’s time to restore our nation’s long-held traditions of protecting the most vulnerable among us through a fair and humane process that leads to the safe and legal migration.
Trump’s chaos and cruelty has created a huge mess – and a moral catastrophe
Trump and Stephen Miller have gutted the asylum system, dismantled effective strategies in Central America, and made it harder for new arrivals in America to follow through with their asylum applications:
- They ended investments in Central America aimed at reducing violence in the communities that generate refugees and migrants.
- They ended the chance to apply for refugee status from home countries — including the program that rescued kids in danger — and cut off discussions of refugee processing from neighboring countries, leaving the U.S.-Mexico border as the only place to apply for asylum.
- They ended the option of applying for asylum at the border entirely, using the cover of the pandemic to expel all arrivals, even kids fleeing violence and arriving at the border without their parents.
- They separated thousands of families at the border, shocking the conscience of Americans and the world, with 666 kids yet to be reunited with their parents.
- They built a border wall, the antithesis to the Statue of Liberty, a monstrosity that does nothing to intelligently manage the flow of refugees and migrants from Central America.
- They threw kids in cages and locked adults in detention centers that turned into COVID hotspots.
- They based their zero tolerance policies on a false assertion that those released from the border wouldn’t show up at subsequent asylum hearings — having ended case management programs that result in 95% of applicants complying with court dates.
There’s a way forward that is workable, sustainable and effective – and that the Biden administration appears to be embracing
The deterrence, detention and deportation policies of the Trump years have helped create an unsustainable humanitarian crisis in the region and at the U.S. border. The Biden framework is in stark contrast. The three pillars of the Biden administration’s vision are as follows:
- Address root causes so that, over time, migration becomes more a matter of choice and less a matter of life and death;
- Expand lawful pathways from the region through refugee resettlement, work visas and family reunification; and
- Develop a functional and fair asylum process, relying on case management programs to ensure compliance with the asylum process, rather than throwing kids, parents and individuals into detention centers that have become COVID hotspots.
As Rep. Zoe Lofgren said when introducing a House Democratic bill in 2019 that similarly advanced a broader vision (as did a Senate bill from Sen. Schumer): “The worst place to deal with a regional humanitarian crisis is at our own border. And we know that people are leaving for a reason.”
Don’t buy into the false Stephen Miller/anti-immigrant frame about the “Biden effect” or pretend that only border arrivals data matters
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a concerted effort from Trump and anti-immigrant allies to advance a coordinated PR campaign on these issues, including coining the “Biden effect” to try and blame the incoming administration’s yet-to-be-enacted policies for a recent uptick in arrivals at the border (see former Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan on Fox, Mark Krikorian of CIS in National Review, and Ken Cuccinelli in the Washington Examiner for examples).
Unfortunately, too many mainstream observers are buying into this false frame, which goes something like this: it’s all about the numbers of arrivals at the border; the numbers are going up again because Biden is soft on immigration and borders (even before he has been sworn in); “a crisis looms” and the new administration will be under intense pressure to crack down.
Here’s what is missing from this narrative: Donald Trump and Stephen Miller dismantled our nation’s fledgling strategy toward Central American refugees, did so by executive fiat, and their policies gutted asylum, drove people seeking freedom back to the violence they fled, and reduced numbers through a relentless campaign of cruelty, chaos and illegality.
Beyond the narrow goal posts of “monthly border arrivals” data, here are the markers of a successful broader strategy that we’ll be looking for:
- An end to the chaos caused by the careless and inhumane policies of the past four years;
- A refugee and asylum system that is fair and humane and leads to safe, legal and orderly processing;
- A border that is well-managed and competently-governed for one and all – for regular visitors, for those engaged in trade and commerce, for those seeking refugee status, and for the millions of residents of border communities;
- A region south of the border that is increasingly stable, prosperous and capable of providing futures for its citizens at home.
For more information, you may also want to look at:
- Advocates, Public Health Experts and Asylum Seeker React to Biden-Harris Admin’s New Approach to Migration (Telephonic Press Conference, 12/22/20)
- America’s Voice on the Incoming Biden Administration’s Vision for Asylum, Migration and Central America (Press Release, 12/22/20)
- After Four Years of the Anti-Immigrant Trump, America Is More Pro-Immigrant Than Ever (Medium Post by Frank Sharry, 12/21/20)