Bishops’ immigration head condemns Biden’s new border enforcement measures

Bishops’ immigration head condemns Biden’s new border enforcement measures
A group of migrants is processed by the Texas National Guard after crossing the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, Dec. 19, 2022, as U.S. border cities braced for an influx of asylum-seekers. (CNS photo/Jordan Vonderhaar, Reuters)

The chief voice on migration for the U.S. bishops has claimed that the proposed regulation will further restrict refuge for those who are most in need and put them in more danger after the Biden administration unveiled its harshest crackdown on border crossings to date.

The new rule, which the departments of homeland security and justice unveiled on February 23, assumes that people who enter the country illegally are ineligible for asylum. Any immigrants who choose not to use a legitimate entry method or who choose not to ask for asylum or other forms of protection in a country they have passed through would be subject to swift deportation.

Public comments on the proposed rule are welcome until March 27. It will take effect in May when Title 42, a contentious Trump-era policy that permits the prompt removal of immigrants and was previously used by the Biden administration, is repealed. The two-year implementation period of the policy is set.

The proposal, according to Bishop Mark Seitz, the USCCB Migration Chair, “perpetuates the mistaken belief that heavy-handed enforcement methods are a viable solution to growing migration and forced displacement,” which has the nation’s bishops “very disturbed.”

“While recognizing our country’s right to maintain its borders, my brother bishops and I have consistently rejected policies that weaken asylum access for those most in need of relief and expose them to further danger.” Seitz said in a Feb. 23 statement. “Because that is likely the result of this proposal, we strongly oppose its implementation.”

The Biden administration contends that when Title 42 is lifted to a level that would jeopardise the departments’ capacity to enforce and manage U.S. immigration laws, including the asylum procedure, illegal admissions into the country are anticipated to rise considerably.

The departments’ highlight in the proposed regulation that there were an average of 8,500 southwest border [SWB] interactions per day for the days ending December 24, 2022, with encounters topping 9,000 per day on 12 different occasions during that stretch. According to the departments’ estimations and projections, encounters could increase to 11,000–13,000 each day after Title 42 is abolished. More than 2.5 million border crossings would result from that in a single year.

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When Title 42 is lifted, the departments state, “the number of migrants seeking to cross the SWB without lawful authorization to do so is expected to increase significantly, unless other policy changes are made.”

Border agents encountered a record-high approximately 2.4 million undocumented immigrants in Fiscal Year 2022, which ran from Oct. 1, 2021 – Sept. 20, 2022. The total for FY 2023, October 1, 2022 – January 2023 is roughly 875,000, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

The proposed rule expands on new border measures the Biden Administration announced last month that expanded legal pathways for a set number of immigrants from Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba to enter the U.S. with the opportunity to stay for two years and receive work authorization.

It also expands the implementation of a mobile app migrants can use to notify border authorities of their plans to seek asylum in the U.S., and a time that they will arrive, in order to be processed into the country, where they can then make their claims for protection.

Like last month’s announcement, Seitz lamented that the advent of new, innovative, legal pathways comes at the expense of an immigrant’s general right to seek asylum in the U.S.

“We appreciate the Administration’s desire to expand lawful pathways to the United States, especially through increased refugee processing, but that should not come at the expense of vulnerable persons seeking protection at our border,” Seitz said. “Above all, the sanctity of human life remains paramount.”