Fifty-three people died last week after being abandoned in a semi-trailer truck in San Antonio, Texas (AP News). In one of the deadliest incidents of human trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border, migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras lost their lives or were hospitalized from heat-related illnesses. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blamed President Biden’s “deadly open border policies” while the president faulted the “multi-billion dollar criminal smuggling industry” (White House). However, this tragedy was caused by this country’s inhumane immigration policies – along with all the other incidences of death, separation, criminalization, and dehumanization of migrants and asylum seekers.
The deaths of the 53 migrants were followed by a Supreme Court ruling allowing the current administration to end the 2019 Migrant Protection Protocols (MMP), or “Remain in Mexico” policy, which mandated people seeking asylum at the southern border to wait in Mexico while their cases are reviewed. Though the ruling cleared a path for Biden to repeal the policy, he has yet to do so. And according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, it will remain in place for several weeks (Politico).
• Donate to the Hutto Community Deportation Defense & Bond Fund by Grassroots Leadership to support detained women.
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• Support the Safe Not Stranded to strike down Remain in Mexico and defend migrant families seeking protection.
Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the 1951 Refugee Convention, the U.S. agreed that all people are guaranteed human rights and freedoms. As such, the country made a global commitment to protect “the rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers” through international law, “regardless of how and why they arrive in a country” (Amnesty International). Yet, Remain in Mexico and Title 42, a 2020 public health order that used the pandemic to justify expelling asylum seekers (Pew Research), were enacted to deter immigration into the country. They endanger migrants without remedying the reasons for the journeys. They threaten and violate the legal obligation to protect people, specifically asylum seekers, who fear persecution and severe harm (Politico).
Upwards of 70,000 migrants were stranded in uninhabitable border tent encampments in 2019, vulnerable to violent attacks while awaiting their immigration hearings (New York Times). As a result, “many reported missing court hearings because it was too dangerous to attend or because of extreme situations such as being kidnapped. Those who missed their court hearings were ordered to be deported and lost their chance to get asylum” (The ARD). In 2021, 63% of asylum-seeking cases were denied, with the number of asylum case decisions dropping to 23,827 compared to 60,079 the previous year (TRAC).
Despite initially denouncing the program, even terminating it in February 2021 before being ordered by a federal court to reinstate it in December 2021, the Biden administration chose to expand “Remain in Mexico,” including adding more nationalities to the program (Migration Policy, Human Rights First). Thirty-seven Congress members criticized the move, stating the program was “unjustifiable” with “intolerable human costs” and posed a greater risk for Haitian migrants, “who experience severe racial discrimination in Mexico and language barriers that create additional obstacles to obtaining housing and employment” (Congress).
While Title 42 expulsions under the current administration have drastically fallen, 51% of all migrant encounters at the southwestern border in March 2022 ended in removal (Pew Research). And more than 8,000 violent incidents against people, including kidnappings, torture, and rape, happened because of these expulsions (Human Rights First).
But Ukrainian refugees received blanket exemptions to the same Title 42 policies that expelled and prevented thousands of Haitians from seeking asylum (Justice Action Center).
In Texas, Gov. Abbott has militarized the border with his state security initiative, Operation Lone Star. Issuing a disaster declaration in May 2021, he deployed the Texas National Guard to the border to bolster border security and combat human trafficking and drug cartel activity (Texas Tribune). Even though states are barred from enforcing federal immigration law, he has been working around this by arresting suspected migrants found trespassing onto private property.
His “catch and jail policy” has resulted in hundreds of detentions without legal charges for weeks and dozens without legal representation for over a month (Texas Tribune). The initiative has not ceased migrant crossings or criminal activity at the border but has been used to terrorize Black and Brown people for non-border-related security violations.
Despite all these anti-immigrant policies, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported a 278% increase in migrant encounters from 2020 to 2021 at the southwest border and 1,956,519 nationwide encounters compared to 646,822 (CBP, CBP). These policies create the conditions in which vulnerable migrants are exploited and abandoned to their death.
Restricting immigration does not decrease the dire conditions for migrants and asylum seekers seeking refuge. It ensures that more drastic and dangerous measures are used in pursuit of sanctuary, including bolstering the same criminal industry politicians claim to condemn.
• Title 42 and Remain in Mexico fail to deter or address the root causes of migration, instead increasing the harm to migrants and asylum seekers.
• These policies discriminately affect migrants of color from countries that were destabilized by U.S. interference and foreign policy.
• Anti-immigration policies are inhumane and violate international treaty obligations to ensure all people are guaranteed human rights and freedoms.