• Press Release

Human Rights Challenges Remain in Biden Executive Actions on Restoring the Right to Seek Safety in the U.S.

January 20, 2021

President-Elect Joe Biden Delivers Remarks On Pro-Trump Mob Storming Capitol
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Responding to executive actions signed by United States President Joe Biden today on termination of border wall construction, rescission of interior enforcement policies and the Muslim and the African bans, the Interim Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, Bob Goodfellow said:

“Walls can no longer define what the United States stands for – it’s time for us to build bridges again. The U.S. must work towards recognizing that all people have the right to seek safety and to receive a fair hearing, like generations of people before us once sought, and received, safety here. We must never again see a day when dehumanizing human beings and criminalizing the act of seeking safety is accepted, normalized, or celebrated in this country.

“Whether at our border or within our communities, small and large, ICE operations have instilled fear and terror, particularly in communities of color. Xenophobia and hate has created a climate where people are afraid for their very lives in their homes, towns, and places of work. The Biden administration will have to work hard to regain trust, and the first step is recognizing their plight to find safety and welcome.

“Unless we address the root causes of policies forcing people to flee their very own homes, the U.S.  will never truly be a safe haven, but a perpetrator of human rights abuses. The lives of thousands of people are at stake as the next few weeks determine what risks and conditions those seeking safety at our border will face.”

“Steps to restore asylum rights and welcome people seeking safety, as the U.S. has historically done, are welcome.As part of this renewed leadership, the Biden administration must free people from immigration detention, release all families together, and end family detention. No one should be detained for seeking safety or detained solely because of their immigration status. The presumption should be always be liberty, not detention.  Families should never be separated, and children should live in freedom with their families as they pursue their right to seek safety.

“When President Trump signed what has become known as the Muslim ban during his first week in office, he set into motion a series of events that continue to leave families in uncertainty and danger to this day. While the administration has a long way to go to address the root causes of the Muslim and African bans, today’s executive actions are a signal to people in this country, and around the world, that U.S. institutions are committed to addressing some of the extremely serious human rights violations that have been committed in the past four years.

“Since the ban was first implemented four years ago, we have seen families torn apart, and anti-Muslim hate crimes. People who were supposed to be welcomed to safety have been placed in limbo by a government that abandoned them. The ban has been a catastrophe for those to whom welcome in the United States was a question of life and death. The United States now must finally welcome the thousands who remain in limbo waiting to call these shores their new home.

“Our research demonstrated that every version of the ban was deadly, dangerous, and disastrous. The policy was rooted in hate, white supremacy, and racism. The ban, and the anti-Muslim sentiment in which it originated, was a violation of human rights and human dignity. The President should publicly repudiate the xenophobia this country enshrined into policy and apologize for the official acts of discrimination by the government that have impacted so many families and individuals. The extension of this Muslim ban into an African ban demonstrated a pernicious pattern of discriminatory treatment of African immigrants and asylum-seekers. This ban was nothing new: it was the same hate and fear in a different package. Instead of making our country safe, it endangered thousands of lives, tore families apart, and abandoned values long cherished by so many in the U.S.”

Background and context

Amnesty International USA is calling on the U.S. to restore a fair, just, and welcoming asylum process at the border, including by immediately releasing people in ICE detention, including all families together, and ensuring that people seeking safety are not detained as default, deploying medical and child welfare experts, and ensuring that immigrants and asylum-seekers in proceedings are guaranteed access to counsel. The detention of families must be ended. There should be a moratorium on deportations and other forced returns from the United States as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on.

The U.S. should rescind disastrous and unlawful policies restricting access to asylum at the border, including the CDC order authorizing mass expulsions, the Remain in Mexico policy, unsafe third country agreements, and bans on asylum based on manner of entry or previous transit through other countries. There should be thorough and transparent investigations into the deaths caused by the wall at the United States-Mexico border and an immediate halt to extension of the wall.

Amnesty International USA is calling on the Biden administration to set a refugee admissions goal to at least 100,000 refugees for Fiscal Year 2021 and reestablish the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program’s acceptance of UN High Commissioner for Refugees referrals, request additional funds from Congress to allow for increased refugee admissions, and provide financial support to international organizations working to address refugees’ needs and rights.

In addition to expanding resettlement, the U.S. should invest in other admission pathways, including humanitarian programs, family reunification, and a private sponsorship model, and expand community involvement in resettlement by robustly promoting community sponsorship through co-sponsorship programs and private sponsorship. In addition to these welcome actions, the U.S. should also rescind other discriminatory and harmful refugee, asylum, and immigration bans.

Amnesty International USA has stood against a Muslim ban from its first iteration, calling on Congress to nullify it. Amnesty USA’s members from around the country mobilized against the ban in states across the country- from  protest marches to nationwide petitions to Congressional leadership, galvanized communities in airports, and conducted gatherings to inform people of their rights.

In the aftermath of the ban, AIUSA created a dozen case studies of the harms caused to individuals and families from Yemen, Iran, Sudan and elsewhere and documented the ways lives had been upended by the ban. In 2019, Amnesty International USA’s researchers traveled to Lebanon and Jordan to conduct nearly 50 interviews with refugees that as a result of the ban, have been stranded in countries where they face restrictive policies, increasingly hostile environments, and lack the same rights as permanent residents or citizens. AIUSA’s report, “The Mountain is in Front of Us and the Sea is Behind Us,” documented how President Trump’s discriminatory policies have decimated refugee resettlement from Lebanon and Jordan, which host the highest number of refugees in the world relative to their populations. The Amari* and Aziz* families, featured in this report, were promised resettlement to the U.S., but were stranded in Beirut after the first Muslim ban. Amnesty launched case campaigns to bring them home, and in summer 2019, the Amari family was resettled to Virginia. The Aziz family – Malik, his wife Sana, and their two sons Tariq and Yousef, remain stranded in Lebanon because of that first Muslim ban and subsequent anti-refugee policies, and Amnesty International continues to call on the U.S. government to resettle this family. Amnesty International has also detailed how returns of refugees from Lebanon to Syria is premature and, in late 2019, published a further report, Sent to a war zone: Turkey’s illegal deportations of Syrian refugees, detailing how Turkey has deported Syrian refugees to Syria, where they are at grave risk.

All families seeking safety should be safe, free and together. People can learn more about Amnesty International USA’s work on the issue here.

People can learn about Amnesty International USA’s priorities for the Biden administration here.