President Biden, Keep Your Promise to Refugees!

During the campaign, President Joe Biden promised to support refugee resettlement. He repeated the promise after his inauguration and sent a message to Congress saying he intended to increase the cap for this year to 62,500 and for next year to 125,000. He has not done so.  

Biden’s inaction is blocking his own policy and imposing more suffering on refugees who have already been vetted and approved to come. At the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell writes:

“So, roughly 715 desperate refugees whose travel arrangements were made by Biden’s own State Department — many of whom had given away their possessions and vacated their homes in anticipation of relocation — had their tickets abruptly canceled.

“At least one family in a Tanzanian refugee camp was booked on a flight for February and rescheduled for another flight in March, because Biden hadn’t completed his bureaucratic task in time for their original itinerary, according to the International Rescue Committee, the nonprofit resettlement agency assigned to receive them in Idaho. Ultimately, their travel was canceled, a sign that even State Department officials hadn’t anticipated Biden’s repeated and unexplained paperwork delays. Many families had similar experiences during Trump’s presidency, when they were also booked and subsequently unbooked for flights.

“Which suggests how little has changed since Trump left office, despite Biden’s warm-and-fuzzy rhetoric.

“Asked repeatedly (by me and others) what accounts for Biden’s delay, White House officials have struggled to answer. Sometimes they try to blame Trumpcomplaining that his administration left a system in ‘disrepair’ that requires ‘rebuilding.’ No doubt, Trump wrought a lot of damage upon the immigration system, and more resources would be necessary to reach the much higher refugee admissions that Biden claims he wants for the next fiscal year (125,000); currently, there aren’t enough people sufficiently far along in the refugee-screening pipeline to meet that goal.

“But none of this explains why the few thousand already fully vetted and deemed ‘travel-ready’ by the State Department as of early March have not been allowed in. The only thing preventing their entry is Biden — who refuses to do the right thing and sign a simple document.”

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Crisis of Conscience, Not of Immigrants

Our real national crisis is not at the border, but in Washington, and in the conscience of our country. Right now, despite our promises and laws, the U.S. government continues to refuse safe haven to asylum seekers asking for protection. That is a violation of U.S. laws, international human rights covenants, and morality itself. 

Migrants head for the United States because of desperation. Two hurricanes, civil wars, starvation, unchecked gang violence, police and political violence: these are all factors driving people from their homes and communities in fear for their lives and the lives of their children.

Under U.S. law, someone who is inside the United States, regardless of how they arrived, can apply for the legal protection of asylum. An asylum seeker can also apply at a port of entry—that is, at one of the gates at the border, or when arriving by air or sea. An asylum seeker may not apply from inside their home country. They have to get to the border or inside the United States to apply. 

Right now, the U.S. government is violating this law. Asylum seekers are not allowed to apply at the border. If they enter the United States, they are still not allowed to apply. Instead, they are immediately expelled—either to Mexico or back to the country they are fleeing. The only exception the Biden administration makes is for unaccompanied minors. 

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Doing Better for Children at the Border

Four years ago, this sign promised a different world “next time,” meaning the next election, after Trump. Now the Biden Administration is struggling to keep that promise, and to reverse inhumane policies implemented over four years. The crisis of children at the border shows how difficult it is to turn around those policies. Despite the urgency of the situation, quick sound bites and Sunday morning talk shows turn this crisis into a political blame game. Republicans blame Biden, and so do some progressives. The facts are more complicated. 

Adam Isacson of WOLA and Jacob Soboroff of NBC News give a more cogent analysis in two succinct tweets than all the talking heads on Sunday’s shows:: 

Isacson: “This is horrible. You know what’s more horrible—but harder to photograph? The other option: expelling kids, alone, to their countries, where they may face danger. Sure—hit the Biden admin for failing to anticipate shelter needs. But don’t hit them for deciding not to expel kids.”

 Soboroff: “Still haven’t heard a single Republican shouting “border crisis” propose a solution to alleviate this, what is indeed a humanitarian crisis in Border Patrol facilities. Only that they want to return to Trump policies and send these minors back to the circumstances they fled.”

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We are All Watching the Children. Watching Is Not Enough.

Their images fill computer and television screens every day: crying children, bewildered children, toddlers, teens. They wait for six days or more in crowded, sunless Border Patrol jail cells built decades ago to hold adult men for a day or two. They jam holding facilities of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, waiting to be reunited with family members already in the United States. 

“Stop them from coming,” the Republicans say. Bullshit. The children are already here. They will not stop coming because some sanctimonious senator on Face The Nation thinks they should.

We could continue the senseless cruelty of the last administration that put a ten-year-old on a plane to Honduras, alone, with no family members there to receive him. Or we can deal with the reality: these children came out of desperation, their own desperation or that of their parents, or both. Watching the suffering is not the same as dealing with the reality.

The Biden administration does not have sufficient staff or facilities to handle these unaccompanied minors. The current surge is a problem created by the Trump administration. True enough, but not enough. We can and we must do better by these children.

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That Crash in California: Remembering Yesenia

On March 2, a maroon Ford Expedition with 25 people inside was hit by a semi-trailer in southern California. Thirteen of the people inside were killed in the crash. They were immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and other countries—and the smuggler who brought them in, the van’s driver. 

Every migrant has a story. Yesenia Magali Melendrez Cardona, age 23, was one of 13 migrants who died in the Ford Expedition

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Deporting to Disaster in Haiti

During the first month of the Biden administration, hundreds of Haitian asylum seekers were put on planes and sent back to that violence-wracked island. Despite the president’s promise to stop deportations, more than 15 flights carried families and small children back to the country they had fled, a country still torn by natural and political disasters. These deportations still continue, with no appeal or opportunity for hearing for most of those involved. 

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Immigration in Congress: One Big Bill, Many Small Ones

*updated 3/5/2021 with new bills and information

Confused by daily reports of bills proposed, introduced, likely to pass, impossible to pass, et cetera? Here’s a quick round-up of immigration legislation introduced in the first two months of the 117th Congress (2021-2022 session). 

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Waiting on the Border

After months and years of waiting, a few asylum applicants finally began moving toward safety on February 19. Slowly. Painfully. 

Although U.S. and U.N. officials stumbled through new procedures, the Biden administration’s commitment is clear. The United States will reverse the multiple illegal bars to asylum set in place by the Trump administration from 2017 to January 19, 2021.

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What the Latest Immigration Executive Orders Do

I didn’t want to slog through the latest executive orders to write this analysis. But the devil is in the details, those too arcane to make their way into news headlines or even articles. So I’m brewing a second cup of coffee and working on the analysis while I wait for the snow to stop falling outside. 

On February 2, President Joe Biden issued three more executive orders on immigration. These come after his first-day executive orders and administrative actions on immigration. The second batch of executive orders (and probably not the last) are:

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Deporting Grandpa and Continuing Atrocities

Felipe Ortega, grandfather of eight U.S. citizens, was deported on Inauguration Day. After 30 years in the United States, he was picked up by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the day before on a 15-year-old deportation warrant. After being held overnight in jail, he was put in chains, and hauled to the international bridge in El Paso to leave the country, with no hope of return. He left behind his wife, three adult children, eight grandchildren, his home, and his construction business. 

Ortega told Reuters, “I think that what they wanted was to kick me out before Biden signed what he signed.” 

Maybe. 

But ICE is continuing full steam ahead with deportations, despite President Biden’s order for a 100-day moratorium on deportations. A Texas federal judge, appointed by Trump, has put a hold on that order. 

Biden also ordered a change in priorities, saying that ICE enforcement should focus on people who are a danger to the community or country. ICE is ignoring that, too.

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