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Advocates, Public Health Experts and Asylum Seeker React to Biden-Harris Admin’s New Approach to Migration

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A recording of the call is available here.


Earlier today, advocates, public health experts and an asylum seeker gathered on a press call to discuss the Biden-Harris administration’s new approach to migration that will undo the worst of Trump’s policies and build back better. After four years of cruel and inhumane immigration policies from the Trump administration, speakers on the call have urged the new administration to address the health and safety of migrants, reunite families, restore programs ended by Trump, and reestablish America’s commitment to protecting, resettling and respecting refugees.

Following an interview published Monday evening, senior incoming Biden administration officials Jake Sullivan and Ambassador Susan Rice revealed the outlines of a new policy approach to migration from Central America and other parts of the world that will build back a better series of structures and policies that are fair, humane and sustainable over time.

Michelle Brané, Senior Director, Migrant Rights & Justice, The Women’s Refugee Commission, said, “We welcome these initial commitments from President-elect Biden, and look forward to working with his administration to ensure they become reality. It is imperative that this recent news mark just the beginning of a new era in U.S. border policies. Regional investment and opportunities are important, but we must also prioritize human rights, rebuild our asylum program and stand up to our international commitments to provide a humane process for those seeking protection at our borders. Restoring these systems during a pandemic and after the chaos that has been left behind will take some time – but we can do it and must start immediately.”

Guerline Jozef, Executive Director, Haitian Bridge Alliance, said, “We would like to remind President-elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris that all plans must include Black immigrants who have been stuck at the border for many years and have experienced many dangers in the journey from Africa and the Caribbean. For Black immigrants, it’s not only an immigration issue, but it’s also a racial issue  and anti blackness  that we see in both the United States and across the world. This is a matter of life and death for far too long  Black immigrants and their specific needs are frequently relegated to the sidelines. We will work with the administration to support an inclusive, fair and humane immigration system. We must stop deportation and expulsion of children and families to countries such as Haiti and Guatemala..  As I speak to you today, this morning, The U.S had a deportation to Haiti, in the middle of the pandemic. This is an absolutely cruel system. We are asking to halt all deportation and we are asking families to be reunited and released. Conversations around immigration must include Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Cameroon, The Bahamas, Eritrea, and other majority-Black countries suffering from the effects of natural disasters or armed conflicts.”

Dr. Michele Heisler, Medical Director, Physicians For Human Rights, said, “With the Biden Administration, The United States has the opportunity to demonstrate that one can both safeguard public health in the midst of the COVID-19 response and safeguard the lives of children, families and adults seeking asylum and other humanitarian protection at the U.S. southern border. It is encouraging that policies that deny the right to asylum will no longer be cloaked as public health policies.”

Linda Rivas, Executive Director & Managing Attorney, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said, “The Biden administration’s work to end cruelty must start immediately. Human rights and dignity must take center-stage. Beyond ending Trump’s cruel policies we must reimagine and transform protections for people who migrate. We must move away from processing at the hands of law enforcement and stop detention and move towards humanity and compassion.”

Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice, said, “Let’s not step over the huge mess that will be left by the Trump administration. They separated thousands of families, they threw kids and families into detention that turned into COVID hotspots, they cut off asylum under cover of the pandemic, they ended aid to Central America, they ended the chance to apply for refugee status from the region, and they bullied our allies into doing their dirty work. The new paradigm of the incoming administration gives us hope. They see the regional nature of the challenge and are bringing forth a regional strategy. The key elements are: address root causes so, over time, migration becomes a choice, not a necessity; expand lawful pathways through refugee resettlement, work visas and family reunification; and institute a fair asylum process that is more efficient and generous, backed by case management programs that ensure the integrity of the process. We believe this is the right approach at the right time. We look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration on this, and pushing them to make sure they follow through on their vision and commitments. Given the dire situation on the ground, this is no time to take our foot off the pedal.”

Daniel Tse, Asylum and Detention Coordinator, Haitian Bridge Alliance, said, “As an asylum seeker who fled for his life from Cameroon, I was arrested and locked up for 7 days, and escaped to Ecuador, which was the most dangerous journey of my life. I went through the Panama jungle for 10 days and I saw people who died, people unable to walk and corpses of those who had died months ago. I was scared to die there. I traveled through Guatemala and Costa Rica and got on a boat without a lifejacket but finally made it to the Mexico-US border. I waited in Mexico for almost two months, and when I finally went to the border and asked for asylum, border agents pushed me down, put chains and shackles on me, and put me in a cage for 15 days with no shower and no explanation of where I was. It was the worst moment of my life. I was transferred to an immigration camp and held there for almost a year. I was thankfully granted asylum but there are people locked up in detention for years. They have no idea why they’re being locked up, they barely escaped with their lives and they came here seeking freedom. Immigration is a Black issue and things need to change.”

Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Co-Director, Latin America Working Group, said, “Addressing poverty, violence, corruption and the impacts of climate change within Central America is a crucial piece of a comprehensive regional approach to migration. But this approach must be implemented carefully with civil society organizations and go hand-in-hand with humane asylum processing at our border that is in line with international law. The strongest message that the United States can send to address forced migration is to encourage the governments of the region to serve and respect the rights of their citizens. The United States should partner not with corrupt governments in a regional strategy but with the communities and activists advocating for change in their countries.”