The world is facing the worst refugee crisis in global history, and the United States is failing to do all it can to support those seeking refuge. More than 82 million people worldwide have left home to escape conflict and persecution, surpassing the record of displaced persons after World War II. Asylum-seekers - those fleeing persecution in their home countries - account for about 8 million of those displaced.
In the U.S., a person seeking asylum must already be in the United States or at a port of entry, such as an airport or land crossing, to apply for asylum protections. Generally, in order to be granted asylum, individuals must pass a "credible fear" interview with U.S. officials to verify the extreme danger they faced in their home countries, and then plead their case before an immigration judge.
The Trump administration decimated the U.S. asylum system through several restrictive policies which primarily targeted individuals seeking asylum at the southern border. Two such policies are the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP or Remain in Mexico) and Title 42. Despite promising to end these policies and restore asylum, the Biden administration has increased the use of MPP and Title 42.
Migrant Protection Protocols
The Migrant Protection Protocols, implemented by the Trump administration in 2018, require asylum-seekers at the U.S. southern border to remain in Mexico as they await asylum hearings via video conference in temporary "tent court" facilities. Once returned to Mexico, asylum-seekers typically find refuge in camps at the border, where they often face violence, kidnappings, and conditions that cannot meet their basic human needs. There is not enough food or water in the camps, and the poor hygiene conditions are causing illnesses, including COVID-19, chicken pox, and infections, to spread rampantly. The COVID-19 pandemic made matters worse by postponing MPP hearings, leaving asylum-seekers stranded indefinitely in unsafe border camps.
The Biden administration has tried to terminate this policy, however, they are currently under a court order to keep it in place. While in October 2021 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo indicating their plan to end MPP once the court-order was lifted, two months later DHS issued another statement with plans to reinstate and expand the policy. MPP is unsafe for asylum-seekers and expanding it will put even more migrants in danger.
In March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Title 42, prohibiting migration into the U.S. when there is a threat of introducing a communicable disease into the country. Over one million people have been deported or expelled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite immigrant justice advocates and public health experts condemning the order as legally questionable, ineffective, and dangerous, the Biden administration has continued to use Title 42 to deport and expel those legally seeking asylum in the U.S.
We must recognize how racism has played a role in immigration and asylum policy. The Biden administration is continuing to implement policies, such as Title 42 and MPP, that disproportionately harm Black and Brown migrants and families. Despite the State Department urging all U.S. citizens to leave Haiti in November 2021 due to instability in the region, the Biden administration has expelled over 12,000 Haitian asylum-seekers since September. In November 2021, the U.S. opened its borders to non-essential travel, but Black migrants and asylum-seekers are still being turned away at the border. The Biden administration must recognize and address the racism that underpins the U.S. immigration, asylum, and refugee resettlement systems.
The Torah places a great importance on how we treat the "ger" - or foreigner among us - by commanding just treatment 36 times. We read in Genesis that not only did Abraham allow guests to enter, he also ran towards them, modeling the enthusiasm with which we should embrace those seeking refuge (Genesis 18:1-5). At Passover, we read about the importance of internalizing the lessons of the Exodus and reflecting this awareness in our actions. Deuteronomy teaches the importance of protecting those fleeing dangerous conditions and the imperative to protect the escaped slave-an archetype of someone in physical danger (23:16). We draw inspiration from these sources and others as we call on our elected officials to welcome asylum-seekers and refugees.
As a community descended from immigrants and refugees, with a long history of persecution and sojourning in foreign lands, American Jews cannot stand idly by while the U.S. is putting today's most vulnerable populations in further danger.
Here are just a few opportunities to support asylum-seekers:
- Urge the Biden Administration to Restore Asylum by ending Migrant Protection Protocols and Title 42.
- Participate in HIAS' Refugee Shabbat : Over Shabbat on March 4-5, 2022, the Jewish community will dedicate sacred time and space to refugees and asylum-seekers. Learn more and register to participate today.