The League of Women Voters of the United States joined nearly 300 civil, human rights, and immigrant rights organizations on a letter to President Biden urging the Administration not to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on an asylum ban. The asylum ban would make individuals ineligible for asylum if they enter the US without using an established pathway or without applying for protection in countries of transit.
January 18, 2023
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden,
The undersigned 292 civil, human rights, and immigrant rights groups write to express our tremendous alarm and condemnation of your administration’s recent announcement of your plan to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to resurrect Trump-era asylum bans. This announcement marks a full-throated embrace of policies initiated by the prior administration, which by your own description “contravened our values and caused needless human suffering.” We call on you not to break your campaign promise to end restrictions on asylum seekers traveling through other countries. The Biden administration must adjust course immediately and abandon the misguided pursuit of an asylum ban. We urge you not to issue the NPRM on the asylum ban.
Your administration’s announcement of plans to establish a presumption of asylum ineligibility for individuals who do not use “established pathways to lawful migration” and do not apply for protection in countries of transit advances the agenda of the Trump administration, which repeatedly sought to impose similar asylum bans. Word-smithing, tweaks and spin do not change this reality. These bans were repeatedly struck down by federal courts for violating U.S. law. They also violated international treaty obligations, which uphold the principle of non-refoulement and generally prohibit the imposition of penalties based on manner of entry into the country of refuge. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) repeatedly condemned attempts to impose such bans.
President Trump’s unlawful asylum transit ban led to asylum denials and prolonged detention for many with bona fide claims, as well as family separations, permanent limbo, and elimination of a pathway to citizenship for refugees barred from asylum and granted only the inadequate protection of withholding of removal. For example, the asylum transit ban led the United States to deny asylum to a Cuban political activist persecuted for supporting an opposition movement, a Venezuelan journalist and her child, a student activist shot during a protest against the Nicaraguan government, and LGBTQ asylum seekers who had fled various countries where they are at risk of harm. Indigenous asylum seekers fleeing gender-based and other persecution in Guatemala, including a woman who had been sexually assaulted because of her ethnicity, were summarily deported through expedited removal without an asylum hearing due to the transit ban. The ban’s many family separations included a Cameroonian torture survivor and a Cuban critic of his government who were prevented from bringing their spouses and children to safety in the United States. The ban also caused skyrocketing asylum denial rates for many Black, Brown, and Indigenous asylum seekers, including those from Cameroon, Cuba, Guatemala, Eritrea and Venezuela.
Asylum bans are entirely inconsistent with the rights-respecting commitments the United States made just six months ago, as well as the administration’s professed commitments to racial equity. By signing the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, the United States committed “to promote access to protection and complementary pathways for asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless persons in accordance with national legislation and with respect for the principle of nonrefoulement.” The prohibition against return to persecution and the right to seek asylum have long been enshrined in U.S. refugee law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Refugee Convention.
Our organizations have repeatedly urged your administration to create and support safe pathways for migration to the United States, but we have always stressed that such pathways should not and cannot be misused to deny access to asylum—as have UNHCR and other international authorities. While we welcome the limited, temporary legal pathways for some nationals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, such pathways are neither asylum nor a substitute for asylum, and they do not excuse the legal damage and human suffering that has and will be inflicted by asylum bans or other policies that seek to impose harmful consequences on people seeking this country’s protection. UNHCR, IOM, and UNICEF have repeatedly and publicly criticized your administration for its improper and highly damaging attempts to link the creation of safe pathways with the denial of access to asylum, warning that “such initiatives…cannot come at the expense of the fundamental human right to seek asylum.”
You were right in your remarks that seeking asylum is legal and a human right, and that people deserve a fair and humane way to do so. Yet your plans to issue an asylum ban to impose “consequences” on asylum seekers who “circumvent” pathways to migration are highly damaging. An asylum ban is unlawful, unfair, and inhumane. We urge you to immediately abandon plans to issue an NPRM on an asylum ban. We further urge you to direct your administration to end its broader efforts to punish people seeking refugee protection. Rather than subverting human rights and refugee law, the United States should be leading by example, encouraging other countries to host refugees by upholding at home the laws we ask other countries to respect at their borders.
See Attached Letter for Signatories
Hon. Kamala D. Harris, Vice President of the United States
Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Department of Homeland Security
Attorney General Merrick Garland, Department of Justice
Secretary Antony Blinken, Department of State
Advisor Jake Sullivan, National Security Council
Ambassador Susan Rice, Domestic Policy Council
Mr. Ron Klain, White House Chief of Staff
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