American borders reopen to tourists, but remain closed for migrants seeking asylum
As entry restrictions lifted on Monday in a welcomed reopening of the land U.S. border crossings to some tourists from Mexico, the Biden administration is continuing to deny entry to asylum-seekers from Mexico and Central America under a Trump-era emergency public health rule.
Lisandro, a migrant from southern Mexico using a pseudonym to protect his identity, tried to request entry to the country with his wife and two kids Monday morning under U.S. asylum law at a Nogales border crossing. He presented his COVID-19 vaccination card, but a border agent turned the family away.
"He said that, for the time being, there is no asylum. The border is only open to tourists with a passport and a visa," Lisandro said at a press conference Monday. "I have the vaccine. It's my right to ask for asylum and I am fleeing from a very dangerous place. How is it possible that they do this to us?"
The press conference was held by the Kino Border Initiative, a faith-based organization that provides shelter, food and other humanitarian services to migrants waiting in Nogales, Sonora, for a chance to get protections from prosecution and violence as outlined by U.S. and international law. The organization is among the various Arizona and national groups that have denounced the invocation of public health powers, known as Title 42, which effectively closed U.S. borders and allows border agents to immediately "expel" anyone they encounter at and between official ports of entry — even if they are seeking asylum under U.S. law.
With the reopening of the border crossings to tourism after 19 months of restrictions and the continued denial of entry to asylum-seekers who are vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19, migrant advocates are calling the Biden administration's border policy a double-standard. They say it endangers asylum-seekers and violates human rights.
Jose Hernandez, a Central American migrant also using a pseudonym who spoke at the Nogales press conference, said he's been waiting in the Sonoran border town for a month. He said migrants are exploited for cheap labor, are taken advantage with high rent bills and persecuted by criminal groups.
"Our lives are in danger here," he said. "To the criminal groups, we are like cattle to them, they don't see us as people. It's not an option to stay here."
Last month, Human Rights First published a report documenting "at least 7,647 kidnappings and other attacks" on migrant families, adults, and children that were seeking protections but U.S. authorities expelled under Title 42 authority since President Joe Biden took office.
Public health experts have repeatedly made the case that the implementation of Title 42 to expel migrants seeking asylum is not based on science or public health best practices, and is instead politically motivated. The policy weakens U.S. and international law meant to safeguard asylum processes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.
While Biden campaigned on promising more humane immigrantion policies than those of his predecessor, his administration has continued to defend and use Title 42. The administration also recently relied on Title 42 to implement an expulsion plan that has sent back to Haiti an estimated 7,000 migrants, the majority of whom are women and children.
Josefina Bejarano Padilla, shelter coordinator at Kino Border Initiative, said the indifference the Biden administration is showing to vulnerable adults and children is "unimaginable." She said it hurts that, while the U.S. reopened its land border for tourists who show proof of vaccination, it chose to continue excluding asylum-seekers. Bejarano Padilla wants both U.S. and Mexican authorities to respond by providing them a dignified way of life.
"All of the migrants that we embrace need open hands, they need for us to fight so their rights are valid," she said. "They need a roof over their heads, they need food, the right to healthcare and work."
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.