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Protection Denied: Humanitarian Consequences at the U.S. Southern Border One Year Into the Biden Administration

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Executive Summary

“The hopes we have in the new government is what we have been waiting on for a long time, only now, with the new president, they are much greater. But [Biden] needs to see that we are still here. We haven’t gone anywhere and our wait continues.” - Yolani, Honduran asylum seeker placed in MPP and awaiting proceedings in Nogales, Sonora.

On February 2, 2021, less than two weeks after taking office, the Biden administration issued a series of presidential actions regarding immigration, including an executive order to provide safe and orderly processing of asylum seekers at the United States border.2 The executive order promised to restore and strengthen the U.S. asylum system through safe, orderly, and humane reception and processing of asylum seekers at the border, noting that immigrants have made the U.S. stronger and better for generations and that policies enacted under the Trump administration contravened U.S. values and caused needless suffering.

One year into the Biden administration, however, some of the most severe Trump-era policies that have decimated access to asylum — commonly known as “Title 42” and “Remain in Mexico” — remain in force. These measures effectively “externalize” asylum beyond U.S. borders, making U.S. territory unreachable to foreign nationals who do not have permission to enter – even if they are exercising their human right to seek asylum – and require Mexico and other countries to carry increasingly challenging burdens to meet humanitarian needs.
Rather than welcoming with dignity, asylum seekers’ rights continue to be violated by the U.S. Moreover, these draconian and inhumane U.S. border policies have arguably increased insecurity in northern Mexico, at least in the short-term, by pushing asylum seekers into border territories where they are specifically targeted by organized crime and other corrupt actors.3 The devastating murder of a Haitian man next to the refugee encampment in Tijuana on January 1, 2022, is unfortunately just one of the many documented cases of aggravated violence against migrants across border towns in Mexico.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has provided responsive humanitarian services to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border since 2019 as part of our broader response ing the region.
The IRC has also strongly advocated for the restoration of access to the asylum system at the U.S. southern border including through rescission of Title 42 and termination of Remain in Mexico.5 This report provides an update on continued externalization of asylum and the resulting humanitarian impacts at the U.S.-Mexico border. The first year of the Biden administration has demonstrated the real dangers of border externalization — both to vulnerable migrants in need of protection and to the humanitarian organizations working to protect their rights and meet their basic needs.