The Biden administration is preparing to open America's borders to travelers fully vaccinated against COVID-19 on November 8, but the decision will not affect asylum-seekers at the southern border, many of whom are barred entry under a Trump-era public health order that authorizes the swift expulsion of migrants.
The administration is hailing the reopening of the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada land borders, closed to most travelers since March 2020, as a win for interlinked communities in all three countries.
“Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy. We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
But immigration advocacy groups see disparate and unfair treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. They note the U.S. will welcome nonimmigrant travelers coming to the U.S. for tourism or business while a federal public health order continues to serve as the basis for expelling migrants, regardless of their vaccination status.
"The Biden administration's so-called public health restrictions on asylum are a deadly and illegal double standard," Kennji Kizuka, associate director of research for refugee protection at Human Rights First, said in a statement.
In a report issued this week, Human Rights First documented 7,600 cases of migrants the Biden administration expelled under Title 42 who were subsequently kidnapped or victims of violence in Mexico’s crime-ridden border regions.
Defense of policy
The Biden administration continues to defend the expulsion policy, which it has modified to exclude unaccompanied minors and some families with young children. The United States recently allowed entry to thousands of Haitian migrants encamped at a Texas border town, while sending many others back to Haiti.
Biden's pick to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Chris Magnus, promised during his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that he would continue to enforce the health order.
“I think it's absolutely imperative that we do everything possible to stop the spread of COVID. And Title 42 is a CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] authority, and I think it helps with this," said Magnus, who is currently police chief of Tucson, Arizona.
Magnus acknowledged challenges at the U.S.-Mexico border and stressed he is dedicated to enforcing immigration law in a humane way.
Immigrant advocates are not satisfied.
Matt Nelson, executive director of Presente.org, told VOA that reopening land borders for fully vaccinated nonessential travelers next month shows the administration believes America has reached a milestone in the pandemic.
In light of that, retaining Title 42 “boggles the mind,” he said.
“The U.S. is a global leader in vaccine production and can easily vaccinate asylum-seekers and process their asylum cases but chooses not to. The paradigm of restriction, exclusion and punishment is an inhumane response to a humanitarian crisis,” Nelson added.