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According to a new report released today by Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), the Biden administration’s approach to people seeking safety not only falls short of expectations but is in urgent need of course correction as we approach World Refugee Day and reaffirm our commitment to supporting refugees worldwide.  

The report, “Needs Improvement: A Progress Report on the Biden Administration’s Record on Making the United States a Safe Refuge,” analyzes the Biden administration’s approach to immigration detention, access to asylum at the border, unaccompanied children, climate displacement, refugee protection, and temporary protected status, and makes specific policy recommendations for each. 

In most areas, AIUSA has found the administration is making progress, slow as it might be in some cases. However, AIUSA has determined that a course correction is urgently needed in the administration’s approach to both immigration detention and access to asylum at the border, from continuing the prior administrations’ arbitrary, mass detention of people arriving at the border to continuing the reckless misuse of a public health quarantine for border control purposes. 

Shortly after President Biden took office, ICE reported detaining 13,860 people on February 5. As of June 11, the number of people ICE reported detaining has skyrocketed 82 percent to 25,238 — an indictment of how it is falling back on prior administrations’ playbooks of the blanket use of detention for people arriving at the border. The Biden administration has also shamefully continued the Trump administration’s policy of misusing the Title 42 public health authority to block and expel people at the border, recklessly endangering lives. Between March 2020 and May 2021, the government summarily expelled nearly 875,000 people — the Biden administration expelled over 400,000 of those people. This misuse of Title 42 particularly affects Black immigrants and asylum-seekers

“Nearly half a year in, the administration has still not delivered on change that has not only been promised, but is of the utmost urgency. There is no excuse that can get the United States government out of its human rights obligations,” said Denise Bell, Researcher for Refugee and Migrant Rights at Amnesty International USA. 

AIUSA’s recommendations include:

  • Immediately stop expelling individuals and families under Title 42. 
  • Rescind the CDC order and accompanying Health and Human Services final rule.
  • End the use of arbitrary, mass detention and incorporate a presumption of liberty in custody determinations, with asylum-seekers and immigrants allowed to live in the community, supported by sponsors and community-based programs operated by non-profits to assist individuals in navigating the immigration process.
  • Release people held in immigration detention through an affirmative file review process with a presumption of liberty, prioritizing people who are most at risk of harm in custody including families and children, transgender individuals, HIV+ individuals, pregnant people, and those at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • Phase out ICE contracts with private prison companies and county jails.
  • End family detention and close all three family detention centers. 
  • Continue to urgently address conditions at emergency intake sites and raise the standard of care to meet children’s best interests, while implementing changes to safely release them faster from such sites and communicating a transparent plan to stop their use altogether. 
  • Ensure that unaccompanied Mexican children are given fair and meaningful access to asylum, as all unaccompanied children and people seeking safety should be, and not turned back with summary and inadequate considerations of their protection needs.
  • Develop a strategy to address climate displacement based on human rights and humanitarian protection.
  • Act expeditiously and with full government resources to admit 62,500 refugees by October 2021, consistent with the presidential determination for fiscal year 2021, and issue a presidential determination of 125,000 for fiscal year 2022.
  • Designate TPS for countries in urgent need of humanitarian protection from forced return.
  • Establish a White House Task Force on Black Immigrants to address the anti-Black racism embedded in the immigration system, as a step toward fulfilling the President’s promise of change for immigrant and Black communities and commitment to racial justice. 

“President Biden has a clear choice: retain inhumane policies and own the stain they leave on his administration’s human rights record, or turn a promised commitment to human rights and racial justice into concrete action. There is still hope for change, but words alone will not achieve it,” said Bell.