Hundreds of men and women, accompanied by their children, are deported every day through the Paso del Norte international bridge in Ciudad Juarez Chihuahua. They are taken to the city's shelters, where this picture was taken, and the children play in the shelters courtyard.
2021 was another challenging year for our sisters and brothers coming to the United States’ southern border looking for refuge. The dangerous journey, combined with the US government’s reimplementation of inhumane policies, continued to take the lives of hundreds of people, and endangered the lives of thousands more.
The UN-International Organization for Migration (or, UN-IOM) reported that in 2021, 65 people died attempting to cross the US/MX border, which represents more deaths than in any year since 2014. Additionally, since President Biden took office, human rights organizations reported at least 7,647 kidnappings and other attacks on people who were denied entry or expelled under Title 42.
In 2022, the continuation of inhumane migration policies, as well as the uncertainty of our upcoming midterm elections, call on all of us to continue advocating for the protection of migrants and asylum seekers.
Looking Back at Immigration Policy in 2021
Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP)
In January 2021, soon after President Biden took office, his administration announced that they would stop the implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols policy (or, MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program. By doing this, the Department of Homeland Security (or, DHS) paused the deportations of noncitizens already in the United States and put a stop to new enrollments under the program.
Since its creation under the Trump administration, the MPP program has led to roughly 60,000 migrants being sent back to Mexico to await their court hearings. The program has been severely criticized by advocates and human right defenders. Our office, along with other organizations, have denounced the program because it violates human rights and endangers already vulnerable migrants by returning them to a country where they are likely to face kidnapping, extortion, gang violence, and even death. In addition to becoming victims of violence, given the current conditions under the COVID-19 pandemic, returning migrants to Mexico, as well as other Latin American countries, makes them vulnerable to the disease, a serious public health concern for those countries welcoming them.
By May of 2021, after the Biden administration paused the MPP program, about 10,707 migrants were allowed to cross into the United States and reunite with their families while they awaited their court hearings. Asylum seekers in the United States reported feeling safe because of this change.
However, in April of 2021, Texas and Missouri filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration for halting the implementation of MPP and asked for the policy to be reinstated. These states claimed that the halt of the policy was endangering Americans and over-burning US law enforcement. In August 2021, a Trump-appointed judge ordered the reinstatement of MPP. After several statements issued by the Biden administration, DHS formally reinstated MPP on December 2, 2021 and began sending asylum seekers back to Mexico.
The new version of MPP, often referred as MPP 2.0, includes the same harmful processes as the MPP program implemented by the Trump administration, but it also includes protocols meant to provide some protections to asylum seekers. For instance, the new MPP provides vaccines for those returning to Mexico. Nevertheless, advocates continued to demand the termination of MPP 2.0, because its fundamental design is still inhumane.
Advocates were outraged that the Biden Administration not only reinstated the MPP policy, but also expanded the program to include populations not previously covered under the original program. This includes people from Haiti and other Caribbean nations. The court decision on the reinstatement of MPP is currently on appeal.
Title 42 is the section of the United States Code that deals with public health, social welfare, and civil rights. Starting in March 2020, President Trump weaponized Title 42 in order to use the pandemic as a pretext to deny all migrants the opportunity to ask for protection at the southern border. This effectively shut down the border to all migration. President Biden has continued this policy by expelling single adults and some families, but is allowing unaccompanied children to cross.
The implementation of MPP, along with the implementation of Title 42, endangers the lives of many migrants who are being denied their right to ask for asylum and are being forced to stay in a country where they are being targeted by organized crime.
According to Amnesty USA, “since [President Biden] took office, human rights investigators have documented over 7,647 violent attacks on people expelled to Mexico. Since September the administration has used Title 42 to expel over 8,000 Haitians to a country in deep crisis.” The Biden administration continues to implement Title 42, despite the call of public health experts to end the program. They explain that the entry of asylum seekers into the US does not represent a public health concern.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also urged the United States to “swiftly lift the public health-related asylum restrictions that remain in effect at the border and to restore access to asylum for the people whose lives depend on it, in line with international legal and human rights obligations.”
Top Priorities for Migration Advocacy in 2022
Given the current political realities, with MPP still working its way through the federal courts and Title 42 still in place, advocacy is more important than ever. We need to continue to fight to secure protections for those seeking asylum at the US southern border by ending these two harmful policies.
We also need to ensure border enforcement protocols respect the human dignity of all migrants and asylum seekers so that incidents like the event at Del Rio don’t happen again. In 2022, we will continue to denounce any inhumane treatment and trauma inflicted on migrants while in DHS custody.
Lastly, we need to continue to push back on the expansion of detention centers and advocate for the establishment of alternative, community-based programs.
In 2022, our priority will also be to restore humane migrant processing that allows for robust access to the asylum system. We will advocate for the undoing of asylum regulations that are meant to deter and limit eligibility to apply for asylum.
As midterm elections get underway, we need to continue pressuring the Biden administration and Congress to support legislation and policies meant to address the migration and humanitarian crisis on our southern border. This must include addressing the root causes of why people migrant in the first place, as well as protecting the well-being of migrants and asylum seekers throughout the migrant process.
Advocacy is an underutilized tool when it comes to protecting these policies.
For example, a 2015 study published by the Congressional Management Foundation found that “direct constituent interactions have more influence on lawmakers' decisions than other advocacy strategies. In three surveys of congressional staff over a 10-year span, 99% (2004), 97% (2010), and 94% (2015) said that ‘in-person visits from constituents’ would have ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of influence on an undecided lawmaker.”
That study also found that “9 out of 10 (91%) congressional staffers surveyed said it would be helpful to have "information about the impact the bill/issue would have on the district or state.” However, only 9% of staffers say they receive that information frequently.
Clearly there is a big gap when it comes to the decisions elected representatives are making and the citizens that elected those representatives in the first place.
In the United States, key skills for advocacy include sharing your advocacy story, building relationships with your elected officials, and organizing your community to lobby decision makers. You can learn more about these and other advocacy skills by downloading our free resource, The Advocate’s Toolbox.
With your help, we can ensure the voice of our migrant sisters and brothers are heard in government decision-making. Each of us has a role to play in building a better world where all of God's creation can live in peace and prosperity.