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"Review" is not enough — NIJC Calls On Biden Administration To Act Quickly to Ensure Meaningful Protection for People at Our Borders 

CHICAGO (February 2, 2021) — The Biden administration issued three Executive Orders this evening outlining its plan to address regional migration and restore asylum rights, roll back obstacles to the legal immigration system, and create a task force to reunify separated families. These orders lift up important priorities to rebuild the U.S. asylum system, such as ending expedited deportation programs and elevating principles of fairness, due process, and humanitarian protection for asylum seekers fleeing gender-based and gang violence.

The orders call for a “review” of two programs that have resulted in the unlawful push-backs of hundreds of thousands at the Southern Border: the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and the ongoing expulsions under the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, one of the orders creates a task force to reunify families separated in connection with the Trump administration’s Zero-Tolerance policy. However, the task force does not address separations that occurred outside of the Zero-Tolerance policy, raising concern that a large population of families separated for other reasons will be left out.

National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy responded to the Executive Orders:

“While the actions are integral steps toward restoring basic human rights for migrants, they fall short of ending ongoing harms against people in life-or-death situations near the U.S.-Mexico border. It is our hope that the administration will act quickly on the heels of this announcement to release concrete policy changes that alleviate suffering on the ground. This work must start with providing a prompt and safe pathway for those trapped in Mexico under the MPP program to enter the United States and seek asylum, as well as rescinding the Title 42 rule. The president’s new task force to reunite separated families also must include in its mandate those families who continue to be separated by these harmful border policies, and by ongoing deportations. Today’s Executive Orders are only the first steps the president must take to fulfill his promise of an immigration system that welcomes immigrants, keeps families together, and allows people to more fully contribute to our country.”

For over two years, MPP has forced at least 70,000 adults and children into dangerous situations in Mexico while their cases remained pending in U.S. immigration courts, causing countless asylum seekers to abandon their claims. Under the program, asylum-seeking families have suffered life-threatening violence, extortions, rape, and abductions. According to Human Rights First, through December 2020, there were at least 1,300 documented cases of violent assaults and other crimes committed against individuals turned back to Mexico under MPP. Even today, families continue to be separated through MPP. Under Title 42, in less than 11 months, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) exploited the COVID-19 pandemic as justification to turn away 200,000 migrants and asylum seekers at the border, including over 13,000 children looking to reunite with family members. These expulsions run afoul of U.S. and international law, and leading epidemiologists and medical experts, including employees of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), agree there is no justification for them to continue. Experts concur that there is a safe way to admit asylum seekers and children during a pandemic.

The Biden administration has a chance to right the wrongs of previous administrations. It is past time for a full end to Title 42, a path for admission for those trapped in MPP, and a commitment to work toward reunification of all families who have been separated as a result of unlawful and inhumane immigration policies.