With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.
- The Biden administration released a draft rule that, if implemented, would deny asylum to many migrants who passed through other countries on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border, and did not first seek asylum in those countries. This is part of a controversial series of restrictions and alternative pathways that the administration expects to have in place after the Title 42 pandemic authority possibly expires on May 11.
- One of those pathways includes use of the “CBP One” smartphone app to schedule asylum application appointments at land-border ports of entry. The app, functioning for over a month as a means to obtain Title 42 exemptions, continues to have problems, particularly a very small number of available appointments.
- Application of Title 42 to Cuban migrants appears to have slowed their arrival at the U.S.-Mexico border, but it also appears to have caused a jump in maritime migration from Cuba to Florida.
- The Supreme Court canceled oral arguments, scheduled for March 1, on Republican states’ effort to prevent Title 42 from terminating. The Court did not take down its order keeping the pandemic expulsion authority in place, though, so Title 42 remains active at least until May 11, 2023.
The asylum “transit ban” rule is out
On February 21 the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice took a step that the Biden administration had first previewed on January 5. The administration introduced a draft rule ( “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking”) that would deny the legal right to seek asylum to many migrants who passed through other countries on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border and did not first seek asylum in those countries.
The rule would partially shut down, to a historic and legally questionable extent, the right to seek asylum upon reaching U.S. soil, as laid out in Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
This “transit ban” is part of an edifice of asylum limitations and alternative pathways that the Biden administration is building ahead of the Title 42 authority’s possible end on May 11, 2023, when the U.S. government’s COVID-19 public health emergency is to end. A February 17 WOLA commentary explains these new components.
- The new limitations on asylum include the transit ban, the placement of asylum seekers into expedited removal proceedings, and discussions with Mexico’s government to take other countries’ citizens as deportees. To what extent Mexico might do that is unclear—the draft rule refers only to Mexico’s “willingness to accept the return of these nationals”—and appears to depend on the U.S. government offering other legal pathways.
- The pathways include two years of “humanitarian parole” in the United States, with work authorization, for some nationalities’ citizens who hold passports and have U.S.-based sponsors, along with use of a smartphone app, “CBP One,” to schedule appointments to request asylum at ports of entry (official border crossings).
The 153-page draft rule refers to a “rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility.” It has exceptions for some asylum seekers. The transit ban does not apply to:
- Migrants who make an appointment ahead of time to apply for asylum at a port of entry (official border crossing) using new features on Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) “CBP One” smartphone app.
- Unaccompanied children.
- Migrants who can prove that they face risk of a medical emergency, are a “victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons,” or face “an imminent and extreme threat to life or safety.”
- Migrants who can demonstrate that the CBP One app’s appointment-scheduling function was “inaccessible or unusable.”
- Migrants who, in an interview, can prove not just that they might qualify for asylum, but that they meet a higher standard of fear (“reasonable fear”).
- Migrants who can prove that they tried and failed to receive asylum in Mexico and other countries through which they passed.
Despite these exceptions, this rule could potentially turn away thousands of asylum-seeking migrants during its first months of operation. At the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Impact site, Dara Lind walked through the Kafkaesque “12 Not-at-All-Easy Steps” through which asylum seekers would have to pass once the transit ban rule goes into effect.
Immigration reform and advocacy groups quickly raised objections. Thirty groups (including WOLA) added statements to a #WelcomeWithDignity campaign warning that “Biden’s Asylum Ban Will Return Refugees to Danger and Death.” The American Immigration Council called it “one of the most restrictive border control measures to date under any president.”
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who has litigated several Trump and Biden administration efforts to curtail asylum, said, “We will sue if this administration goes through with a transit ban, just as we successfully sued over the Trump transit ban.” (A 2019 Trump-era ban, with even fewer exceptions and alternate pathways, was struck down in federal court in 2020.)
Congressional Democrats voiced quick opposition. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration) wrote, “The ability to seek asylum is a bedrock principle protected by federal law and should never be violated. We should not be restricting legal pathways to enter the United States, we should be expanding them.” Sens. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico), and Alex Padilla (D-California) wrote, “We have an obligation to protect vulnerable migrants under domestic and international law and should not leave vulnerable migrants stranded in countries unable to protect them.”
The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on February 23. Members of the public have until March 27 to submit comments, to which the administration must respond before implementing it. The rule would go into effect the moment that the Title 42 authority expires, and last for two years, a period that could be extended.
CBP One issues persist
“When U.S. Customs and Border Protection introduced the CBP One mobile application two years ago,” the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff wrote on February 20, “it was largely geared toward commercial trucking companies trying to schedule cargo inspections.” Now, features on the app are essential to accessing the Biden administration’s humanitarian parole program for five nationalities, and to making appointments to request asylum at ports of entry, under a limited number of Title 42 exemptions.