Catholic leaders at border criticize Biden’s immigration crackdown

Venezuelan immigrants Venezuelan immigrants arrive to the U.S.-Mexico border to try to cross into the United States on Jan. 8, 2023, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. | Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The Biden administration’s new immigration crackdown that was announced Tuesday received widespread criticism from Catholic leaders along the U.S.-Mexico border.  

Referred to by some as a “transit ban,” the new policy automatically denies asylum to migrants who cross the border illegally or cross other countries illegally to get to the U.S.

The policy will take effect May 11, when the pandemic-era measure known as Title 42 is set to expire. A public health order instituted by the Trump administration, Title 42 barred entry to large numbers of migrants on the grounds of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson, whose diocese covers large swaths of the southern border, told CNA: “I am deeply concerned about the announcement of Feb. 21 informing us that the Biden administration will further restrict immigrants from reasonable access to protections when fleeing violence.”

“As a people of the Gospel of Jesus Christ we must have a special concern for those fleeing persecution. Indeed, we see in them a reflection of the Holy Family, which fled Herod’s persecution and found safety in Egypt,” Weisenburger said. “In place of policies that make life more difficult for some of the most vulnerable and at-risk among us, our government would do better to invest in policies that mesh with the efforts of local churches and reflect our Holy Father’s invitation to integrate our brothers and sisters.”

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso tweeted his opposition to the policy, using the hashtag “#NoAsylumBan.”

“I dream of the day we can set political calculations aside & put in place a safe, humane, welcoming system to receive immigrants at the border—a system that respects the God-given rights and dignity of asylum seekers & all those forced to migrate,” Seitz said. 

Dylan Corbett, executive director of Catholic migrant aid group the Hope Border Institute, said: “The ban is regressive, illegal, and lays down a precedent that will be difficult to walk back.”

“Make no mistake, cowardice is at the root of this proposal. Seeking asylum at the border, wherever and however you got there, is completely legal,” Corbett said. “The Biden administration is playing hard and fast with [the] rights and safety of vulnerable migrants at the border.”

The policy change comes after a record surge of more than 2.76 million migrants crossed the southern border in the fiscal year 2022, according to NBC News.

The Pew Research Center found that the largest increase of migrants attempting to cross the border came from countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba — nations that face widespread poverty and violence.

According to the official policy proposal, “the proposed rule would encourage migrants to avail themselves of lawful, safe, and orderly pathways into the United States, or otherwise to seek asylum or other protection in countries through which they travel, thereby reducing reliance on human smuggling networks that exploit migrants for financial gain.”

In the proposal, the Biden administration states that without the policy change, “the number of migrants expected to travel without authorization to the United States is expected to increase significantly, to a level that risks undermining the departments’ continued ability to safely, effectively, and humanely enforce and administer U.S. immigration law, including the asylum system, in the face of exceptionally challenging circumstances.”

Biden’s new rule, which is his most restrictive border policy yet, will remain in effect until May 11, 2025.

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