June 1, 2023
Afghanistan: One of the largest and most complex humanitarian emergencies in 2023
The past few months have seen lots of news coverage on the humanitarian crisis taking place along the U.S. Southern border. Record number of migrants and asylum seekers are crossing the border, seeking sanctuary in border cities like El Paso, leaving detention centers and shelters overcrowded. On May 11, another large change took place that will further disrupt the situation: the end of Title 42.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has announced on May 11 that the national COVID-19 public health emergency will end, which in turn will eliminate one of the key legal underpinnings of the Title 42 policy. Since its implementation by the Trump administration in March 2020, Title 42 has led to the expulsion of migrants over 2.7 million times.
Many have criticized this policy, saying that it is in complete violation of international refugee law, prohibiting individuals and families from seeking asylum in the USA and deporting them without ensuring their safety. Human rights organizations have tracked at least 13,480 reports of murder, torture, kidnapping, rape, and other violent attacks on migrants and asylum seekers blocked in or expelled to Mexico under Title 42 since President Biden took office and continued the policy.
While the end of Title 42 is a step in the right direction, the USA still is severely lacking when it comes to progressive and sensible immigration policy. In fact, there has been a lack of congressional action for decades, with the majority of new immigration policy being a patchwork of poorly implemented laws that were pushed through the executive branch and failed to address the crisis.
Title 42 has been acting as a ‘deterrent’ for immigrants crossing into the USA for the last 3 years, preventing people from seeking asylum and allowing the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to immediately expel people from the country.
Troy Miller, the top official at CBP, told Congress that the CBP was preparing for as many as 10,000 migrants to cross the southern border each day once the policy is terminated, which would almost double the daily average in March. The past year has already seen a record number of people crossing the border into the U.S. and resources are already overwhelmed in border cities like El Paso who don’t have the capacity to provide shelter and care to incoming migrants.
With Title 42 over, Title 8 will come back into play. Under Title 8, the U.S. is required to give migrants who request asylum a preliminary interview or a chance to present their case in front of an immigration judge. This does not mean that deportations will come to an end either, in fact the Biden administration has announced that it will increase regular deportations, under the process called expedited removal. This is when migrants can be rapidly deported and banished from the U.S for up to 5 years. The increase in deportations is linked to a possible new regulation that will disqualify migrants from seeking asylum if they failed to seek refuge in a third country (i.e. the first safe country they arrive in) before crossing into the U.S ‘illegally’. Those that do pass their preliminary asylum interview will either be released into the U.S or sent to a long-term detention center until they receive a date to present their case to an immigration judge.
Ending Title 42 is absolutely necessary, it was a harmful policy that infringed on basic human rights: seeking asylum and safety. Yet it does not resolve the USA’s fundamental issue: it’s overall immigration policy. COVID-19 and Title 42 have resulted in a backlog of hundreds of thousands of unresolved asylum cases and that number is only continuing to grow. The immigration court system at present is thoroughly overwhelmed and under equipped, yet many are depending on this system.
The Biden administration has set up other programs and solutions to try and manage the influx of immigrants arriving. One such policy is the humanitarian parole sponsorship program that will allow up to 30,000 migrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba to fly to the U.S. per month. Yet this program has significant flaws, requiring challenging qualifications that many cannot meet and providing only short term relief. Immigrants will need to have a sponsor, someone who will be financially responsible for them for two years, they must enter through a legitimate port of entry, apply for the status online before they arrive, pass rigorous vetting and must not have attempted an irregular crossing after Jan 5, 2023. Once accepted, they will be allowed to stay in the USA for only two years, after which they will be expelled once again. This program does not provide asylum and prevents many more who are likely highly vulnerable from applying.
Biden has created a phone app, CBP One, that will provide asylum-seekers with the ability to secure appointments to enter the country. Yet this too has raised a number of concerns. Everyday the app is overwhelmed with the number of users flooding its system, and appointment spots run out in a number of minutes, leaving thousands stuck in precarious positions. It also does not address the already serious backlog of appointments that already exist.
The administration has announced that it would set up processing centers in Latin America to vet migrants eligibility to be resettled either in a ‘third country’ or the USA, Canada, or Spain. It also said it would allow some citizens of Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to fly to the USA under a program for those with approved visa requests from relatives who are U.S. citizens or residents.
Yet all these new policies are vulnerable to litigation and may be overturned in the near future. Congress needs to work together to come up with a viable solution. While the policies mentioned above try to stem the flow of migration into the USA, they do not address the humanitarian crisis at the border that lacks the resources to provide care and shelter for those that have crossed. In some cases they fail to meet basic international refugee law, like having the chance to seek asylum or being deported without ensuring the safety of the deportees. So in summary, the USA is not equipped to handle the growing humanitarian crisis that is occurring along our border, not until proper rights-based immigration policy is implemented by Congress.
At Doctors of the World, we are doing what we can to help address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in El Paso by providing primary care to migrants and asylum seekers in the region. Everyday, we welcome them into our center and treat their basic health needs as best as we can. We hear many different stories of why people had to flee their homes: violence, corruption, poverty, pandemic and climate change are among the key factors that have been discussed.
Some have told us stories about traveling through as many as 13 different countries along their journey, in many cases traversing the extremely dangerous jungle of the Darien Gap, on foot. We are seeing patients who have sustained severe injuries by attempting to scale, and then falling off, the 30-foot border wall. Most are suffering from mental trauma as a result of what they have endured along the way. Regardless of why or how they came here, we will always provide care with compassion and respect, as they deserve.
Doctors of the World’s Board President, and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Dr. Glenn Fennelly, gives us a brief look inside one of the locations where we are working, in this local news clip, and explains what we are aiming to accomplish in the region, alongside our partners.
We are one of the only organizations providing care to migrants and asylum seekers in transit in the border region, and we are committed to staying here and providing that care for as long as necessary.
CBP One app becomes main portal to U.S. asylum system under Biden border strategy – CBS News
Biden administration moves to limit asylum in bid to reduce border arrivals – CBS News
Key facts about Title 42, the pandemic policy that has reshaped immigration enforcement at U.S.-Mexico border – Pew Research
Title 42: “Human Rights Stain, Public Health Farce” – Human Rights Watch