By Daniella D. and Audrey S.
WASHINGTON, DC – Before a ruling this week, “Title 42” had been the law of the land since March 2020 during Trump’s presidency, blocking U.S. from accepting immigrants at the U.S. southern border seeking asylum in the name of protecting public health.
However, this week, a federal judge ruled Title 42 was actually violating the U.S.’s asylum laws.
In response to the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed a hold that would pause this court order for approximately five weeks.
The Biden administration has been preparing its new policies regarding the border and immigration, but during the Biden administration Title 42 had actually been extended despite the assurance this policy would cease, according to migrant rights groups, who claim huge numbers of Venezuelan immigrants were turned away from seeking asylum last month.
Hundreds of faith organizations and leaders are continuing to press the Department of Homeland Security to overturn the expansion of Title 42 so that asylum seekers can find safety.
They have also urged the Biden administration to accept the federal judge’s ruling blocking Title 42 in order to repair the U.S. asylum system and stop expelling people.
“What if we as a country were as committed to dreaming about what a compassionate and dignified welcome would look like as we’ve been to building up border walls and expelling migrants? It’s a new morning and the faith community stands ready to help rebuild our asylum program to provide a welcome to all who seek it,” stated Katie Adams, Policy Advocate with the United Church of Christ and Interim Chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.
Dylan Corbett, Executive Director of the Hope Border Institute, echoed Adams, explaining, “As a border community, we see daily the tragic human consequences of asylum-denying policies like Title 42.” This was in reference to the way that Title 42 slams the door to people who are unsafe and defenseless.
Many faith leaders argue not only is this policy harmful to those being affected by it, but also a major setback in U.S. immigration policies.
“The ruling is another recognition of what we have known since the start—that this policy is inhumane, illegal, and has been a stain on American immigration policy for far too long. […] Our commitment to a just immigration and asylum policy is rooted in this text and our own history as a people fleeing persecution,” said Director of the Reform Jewish Movement’s Commission on Social Action, Barbara Weinstein.
Anna Gallagher, Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. explained, “The U.S. has the resources to move quickly and create well-functioning systems that honor the right to seek asylum—we only need commitment, creativity, and compassion.”
Any decision to keep Title 42 would be irrational, elaborated Pedro Rios, Director of the U.S.-Mexico Border Program with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
Rios added, “A U.S. judge has temporarily vacated Title 42—the order that used the pandemic as an excuse to deny people the right to pursue asylum in the U.S.—calling it arbitrary and capricious,” he stated.
Rev. Noel Andersen, Director of Grassroots Organizing, Church World Service, like Gallagher agreed the U.S. has the power to end this remnant of Trump’s presidency.
“We call upon this administration and our congress to uphold our asylum laws and respond with enhanced funding and infrastructure to welcome asylum seekers with dignity,” stated Rev. Andersen.
Some have also argued that Title 42 is not only wrong, but has also been ineffective since its establishment.
“Deterrence-based immigration policies are just as ineffective as they are cruel,” explained Dr. Kim Lamberty, Executive Director of the Quixote Center, adding, “We hope the U.S. government takes this court ruling as an opportunity to lead with compassion instead of xenophobia and restore humane and orderly asylum processing.”
Meredith Owen, Director of Policy and Advocacy (Church World Service), maintains Title 42 was never about public health, but operated as a tool to both unlawfully and wrongfully keep the most vulnerable groups from being protected.
She said the Title 42 expulsions have been denounced by the faith community alongside any anti-asylum policies that have caused individuals to return back to areas they have fled where they were in unsafe conditions.
Her group CWS advises the administration to agree with this decision, completely embrace all asylum protections, and fix previous mistakes of family separation and any other anti-asylum practices.
Naomi Steinberg, Vice President of U.S. Policy and Advocacy (HIAS) agrees with the urgency for the Biden administration, noting, “This opportunity must be used to move to either fix or start the current broken asylum system to where we see the root cause of the issues addressed at the border, while making sure that asylum seekers can be a part of a safe, humane, and legal system.”
Joan Rosenhauer, the executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. Rosenhauer said her firsthand experience has been noticed almost three years after the policy was implemented, and the decision made by the U.S. District Court to void Title 42 is “encouraging.”
The decision has support from Sister Marie Lucey, who acts as the Associate Director of the Franciscan Action Network, who supports the ruling and that both Congress and the Biden administration ought to work immediately in order to restore protections and make the system so that it is safe, workable, and humane.
The rights and dignity of both brothers and sisters who come to this country to flee a more dangerous situation from their home countries must be acknowledged and taken into account, the group maintains.
And Susan Gunn, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, references the impact this ruling has had on the Maryknoll missioners who work along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gunn said they are able to see firsthand the lives at risk by an alleged rule to support public health, and suggests Congress should use a portion of the money which is going to a border police force and instead spend more funds to go towards federal courts and immigration agencies so asylum claims can be more fair and just.
Elket Rodriguez, the Field Personnel and Team Leader of the Advocacy Team for Immigrants and Refugees for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, notes they hope this decision can result in less migrants being raped, kidnapped, and abused in northern Mexico, and that there can now be an emphasis more than before on this administration working towards a more equal, timely, and orderly asylum process.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah (Rabbinic Call of Human Rights), said those that identify as Jews recognize the importance of immigration policy being often the difference between life and death, noting many of their own families fled to the U.S. for safety, and many died after borders were closed to them. The concept of seeking asylum is an essential and protected human right, the rabbi added.
Other representatives of groups that offer their support include Fran Eskin-Royer, executive Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and Rabbi Joshua Lesser, who is the President of Bridges Faith Initiative.
Lesser said the recent court decision is a major step to address the broken immigration process filled with bigotry.
However, a concern raised by the HIAS’ President and CEO Mark Hetfield is that the Biden administration recently expanded Title 42 as a portion of a new program to admit 24,000 Venezuelans under humanitarian parole while dismissing a significantly larger number to Mexico.
While this move was initially viewed as an emergency measure, the move now seemingly has permanence in U.S. immigration policy, he said. Hetfield added he does not see currently keeping Title 42 in place as the answer for now while we wait for new policies from DHS officials.
Hetfield notes a Biden campaign promise was that he would end Title 42, so he and his administration ought to act with urgency on repairing and patching up the currently broken asylum system and to once again be seen as a leader when it comes to protecting asylum rights.