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The Nightmare Continues: Title 42 Court Order Prolongs Human Rights Abuses, Extends Disorder at U.S. Borders

June 16, 2022

On May 23, 2022, the Title 42 policy was set to end. For more than two years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had used this Trump-era policy to block asylum at U.S. ports of entry and to expel asylum seekers to grave dangers without allowing them to apply for U.S. asylum. However, on May 20, 2022, a federal court in Louisiana preliminarily enjoined decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to terminate its prior Title 42 orders, and the court directed the U.S. government to continue the Title 42 disaster. At the same time, a ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals prohibiting DHS from using Title 42 to expel asylum-seeking families "to places where they will be persecuted or tortured" went into effect on May 23.Despite these seemingly dueling Title 42 judicial decisions, DHS retains clear authority to except individuals from Title 42 and remains obligated under U.S. refugee law and binding treaty commitments not to return anyone--whether a family, adult, or child--to persecution or torture, as the legal rationale of the D.C. Circuit Court decision confirms.However, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the border enforcement arm of DHS, continues to turn away people attempting to request asylum at U.S. ports of entry without screening for asylum, stranding them in Mexico facing life-threatening dangers. DHS also continues to expel people who cross the border between ports of entry to grave danger in Mexico, Haiti, and other countries of persecution from which they fled without allowing them to apply for asylum or asking fear screening questions.This update is based on interviews with 74 asylum seekers conducted by Human Rights First researchers in Ciudad Acuña, Nuevo Laredo, and Piedras Negras, Mexico in late May 2022 as well as additional remote interviews in June 2022; information from legal services and humanitarian aid providers across the border region; observations from outside the Del Rio, Eagle Pass, and Laredo ports of entry; publicly available U.S. government data and information; as well as media and other human rights reporting.

USCIS Records Reveal Systemic Disparities in Asylum Decisions

May 17, 2022

Government records received by Human Rights First from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum office through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show years-long, systemic disparities in asylum adjudications based on the nationality of the asylum seeker and the asylum office handling the case.The current administration must urgently act to address racial, nationality, and asylum office-based disparities in asylum adjudication. USCIS should ensure that cases qualifying for refugee protection are actually granted by the asylum office, rather than being referred for immigration court adjudications. The over-referral of cases exacerbates already years-long delays for many asylum seekers and needlessly contributes to court backlogs for cases that are overwhelmingly later granted by immigration judges. These reforms are particularly crucial given new asylum process rules, set to go into effect at the end of May 2022, under which more asylum seekers would undergo initial, full asylum adjudications by the asylum office.

Asylum Process Rule Includes Welcome Improvements, But Critical Flaws Remain to Be Resolved

May 6, 2022

On March 29, 2022, the Biden administration published an Interim Final Rule (IFR) that creates a new process for asylum seekers entering the United States. The IFR contains significant improvements—including preserving access to immigration court removal hearings and establishing a status conference mechanism that encourages narrowing of issues—following comments from members of congress, UNHCR, Human Rights First, and many legal services organizations. Under the IFR, asylum seekers who are placed in the expedited removal process— wherever they enter or are processed into the United States—and who establish a credible fear of persecution may be assessed in an initial, full asylum interview ("Asylum Merits Interview") by an asylum officer from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Cases not granted by the Asylum Office are referred to immigration court removal proceedings, as are other asylum cases that are not granted by the Asylum Office. The IFR, which is scheduled to take effect on May 31, 2022, follows an August 2021 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in which the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice requested public comment on the proposed rule. Comments on the IFR must be submitted on or before May 31, 2022.

“I’m a Prisoner Here”: Biden Administration Policies Lock Up Asylum Seekers

April 21, 2022

Today, the United States operates the world's largest immigration detention system—a system the Biden administration uses to jail people seeking refugee protection. While this administration is not currently detaining families and has requested a reduction in detention funding, its policy has led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to target adult asylum seekers as priorities for detention. DHS has perpetuated a punitive immigration detention system—converting former family detention centers to jail adults and expanding other existing facilities. As the administration restores compliance with U.S. refugee law at the southern U.S. border and ends Trump policy that illegally prevented people from seeking asylum, it should not substitute one rights-violating policy for another. Instead, it should set an example of global leadership by ending mass detention of asylum seekers and providing a true humanitarian welcome to people seeking refugee protection at the border.This report is based on information about 270 asylum seekers and immigrants held in detention, including direct interviews with 76, information received from dozens of attorneys and detention center visitation programs, DHS data, government records received through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and visits to three ICE detention centers where researchers spoke with detained individuals and ICE officials. Requests to visit five additional facilities were denied by ICE. Human Rights First interviewed or received information from asylum seekers, attorneys, and other monitors related to asylum seekers and immigrants held at 49 facilities in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. The report is also informed by Human Rights First's decades of experience providing pro bono representation to asylum seekers, including those held in immigration detention, and its prior research and reporting on U.S. detention and parole of asylum seekers, including reports issued in August 2015, July 2016, February 2018, June 2018, and January 2019. A full description of Human Rights First's research methodology is included at the end of this report.

The Long Tail of Afghan Relocation and Resettlement: Achievements, Obstacles, and Opportunities

April 12, 2022

The Evacuate Our Allies (EOA) Coalition was formed in the wake of President Biden's announcement of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in April 2021. Its mission is two-fold: to ensure the rapid relocation and rescue of vulnerable Afghans who are at risk of persecution from the Taliban, and to ensure a prompt and dignified resettlement in the United States. Its focus includes, but is not limited to, supporting those eligible for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.In addition to its legislative efforts, the EOA Coalition also serves as the primary engagement vehicle for the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Unified Coordination Group (UCG) to work with civil society through Operation Allies Welcome. Through its five main liaison working groups, the coalition has hosted over 20 engagements with dozens of experts and officials representing over 12 federal agencies since September 2021 and has presented hundreds of policy and process recommendations to more humanely, efficiently, and generously support newly arrived Afghans and those that remain abroad in need of protection. This report is a compilation of feedback collected from Afghan American community leaders, veterans groups, on-the-ground experts, and liaison working groups: The report focuses on areas of advancement and achievement in our partnership with the UCG and federal agencies, identifies challenges that prevent successful relocation and resettlement, and presents recommendations for policy changes that should be prioritized as Operation Allies Welcome enters its next phase.

Russia’s Ukraine Invasion and Sanctions – Q&A

March 1, 2022

This fact sheet from Human Rights First provides information on U.S. sanctions in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including their purpose and intended goals.

Restarting Orderly Process Critical to Managing Arrival of Asylum Seekers at Arizona Border

February 8, 2022

U.S. ports of entry have remained closed to requests for asylum throughout the pandemic, forcing some families and adults to cross the border between ports of entry to seek refuge in the United States. Unscrupulous politicians have seized upon recently increasing arrivals in Arizona to stoke fear. On February 7, 2022, the Arizona Attorney General issued an opinion claiming that the state faces an "invasion" at the southern border which, under the U.S. Constitution, would authorize the governor to use defensive force.Far from a threat, the majority of the people arriving near Yuma are people seeking protection from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – countries from which many are fleeing repressive regimes and deepening political and humanitarian crises. Government data indicate that the Title 42 policy, which has been used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to block asylum at ports of entry, is driving the increase in border crossings. Prior to the restrictions at ports of entry, nearly all asylum seekers from Cuba and Haiti, for example, sought to enter the United States at ports of entry.To address disorder at the southern border created by policies restricting access to asylum, the Biden administration must:restart receiving requests for asylum, including at ports of entry—as required by U.S. law—andstop expelling migrants and asylum seekers, which drive the rise in Border Patrol encounters with those who repeatedly attempt to cross the border in increasingly remote and dangerous routes.This fact sheet presents these and other recomendations for restarting the process for asylum seekers at the Arizona border.

Fair, Timely, and Less-Traumatizing Asylum Process

January 25, 2022

The backlogs and delays at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Asylum Office and the immigration courts have reached new record highs, as long-standing challenges and pandemic-related adjournments continue, leaving refugees waiting years to have their asylum applications resolved and reunite their separated families. The Biden administration must take urgent action to address these escalating challenges.Over the last year, Human Rights First has repeatedly detailed, and shared with the Biden administration, recommendations for addressing these backlogs and strengthening asylum processing so that it is more fair, timely, humane, and orderly. This paper updates prior recommendations, taking into account steps already taken by the Biden administration as well as missteps that thwart due process and refugee protection.

A Shameful Record: Biden Administration’s Use of Trump Policies Endangers People Seeking Asylum

January 13, 2022

Now nearly one year into President Biden's term, his administration continues to implement and expand illegal and deadly Trump administration policies that prevent people from seeking asylum at U.S. ports of entry and along the border and turn them away to grave, widespread dangers. The administration's use of these policies – known as Title 42 and Remain in Mexico – has perpetuated their inherent cruelty, disorder, and the racist tropes in which they are rooted. The result is a shameful record of human suffering. Since the Biden administration took office, Human Rights First has tracked over 8,705 reports of kidnappings and other violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers blocked in and/or expelled to Mexico by the United States government.Despite lifting other pandemic-related international travel restrictions, the Biden administration continues to embrace Stephen Miller's policy of misusing Title 42 of the U.S. Code to block asylum seekers from requesting protection at U.S. ports of entry and to expel people seeking refuge without access to the U.S. asylum system. The administration is defending the expulsion policy in federal court, with the next hearing in a lawsuit challenging expulsions of families at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals set for January 19, 2022. The Biden administration bears full responsibility for its rampant use and continued defense of the illegal Title 42 policy, which it is has wielded now for longer and to expel more people than President Trump.For this report, Human Rights First researchers conducted in person and remote interviews with migrants and asylum seekers, attorneys, shelter and other humanitarian staff, Mexican government officials, and legal monitors. Researchers monitored the implementation of RMX in Ciudad Juárez in person in December 2021 and interviewed 18 of the individuals returned under RMX. Additional interviews of migrants and asylum seekers blocked in or expelled to Mexico due to Title 42 were conducted by telephone between December 2021 and January 2022 and in person in Tijuana in November 2021. The report draws on data from an electronic survey of asylum seekers in Mexico conducted by Al Otro Lado between September 2021 and December 2021, data and information provided by Mexican migration officials, legal complaints, media sources, and other human rights reports.

Fulfilling America’s Promise: Options to Make U.S. Humanitarian Protection Pathways Viable for At-Risk Afghans

November 9, 2021

In this report, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), InterAction, and Human Rights First lay out several options available to the Biden Administration to provide at-risk Afghans viable humanitarian pathways out of Afghanistan and third countries and into the U.S.

Biden Administration’s Dangerous Haitian Expulsion Strategy Escalates the U.S. History of Illegal and Discriminatory Mistreatment of Haitians Seeking Safety in the United States

September 21, 2021

This fact sheet from Human Rights First and Haitian Bridge Alliance (the Bridge) examines the response of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Biden Administration toward the predominantly Haitian migrants and asylum-seekers who crossed into the United States near Del Rio, Texas in August/September 2021. It also compares the current situation to the approach the United States has historically adopted toward Haitian immigrants and asylum seekers.

Human Rights Travesty: Biden Administration Embrace of Trump Asylum Expulsion Policy Endangers Lives, Wreaks Havoc

August 24, 2021

More than seven months since President Biden took office, the U.S. government continues to turn awayand block people seeking protection at U.S. ports of entry along the southern border and to expel manyasylum seekers to growing danger in Mexico. For this report, Human Rights First researchers conducted in person and remote interviews with migrantsand asylum seekers, government officials in the United States and Mexico, attorneys, academicresearchers, humanitarian staff, and other legal monitors. Researchers spoke with 65 migrants andasylum seekers in person in the Mexican cities of Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras, and CiudadAcuña in August 2021 and more than 50 additional interviews with migrants and asylum seekers inMexico were carried out by telephone between July and August 2021. Interviews were conductedprimarily in Spanish with a limited number in English. The report draws on data from an electronic surveyof asylum seekers in Mexico conducted by Al Otro Lado between June and August 2021, as well asinformation from U.S. and Mexican government data, media sources, and other human rights reports.