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'Playing politics with human beings': Philly immigrant community leaders believe Biden's new asylum restrictions won't solve anything

Nate File, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA — On June 4, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation that would prohibit the ability of migrants crossing the Southern border to apply for asylum protection when daily average crossings exceed 2,500 in a given week.

Biden’s proclamation is a fundamental change to asylum policy, where any person coming to the U.S. because of a reasonable fear for their safety or persecution was traditionally afforded the right to seek refuge here.

Even some 2,000 miles away from the border here in Philadelphia, immigrant community members are worried about the effects of the new restriction.

“It’s going to make it worse,” said Daune Campbell, a Guyanese immigrant and leader with the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia nonprofit.

“We are looking at more deaths. We are looking at more people trying to get to the border, more families that are going to be broken both in the United States and outside of the United States because they are gonna (still) be trying to get here,” she said.

Under Biden’s new policy, daily crossing averages must fall to 1,500 or lower for a full week before migrants are able to apply for asylum again. The policy also states that unaccompanied minors and trafficking victims are exempt from Biden’s proclamation, as well as other individuals with urgent needs “based on the totality of the circumstances.”

Campbell believes that limiting asylum won’t dissuade many migrants from still trying to cross into the United States, it will just heighten the desperation that caused them to leave their home countries in the first place. She foresees more parents sending their children alone or with traffickers across the border, or migrants still attempting to cross with nothing to protect them legally against detention and deportation if they’re discovered.

“They are actually cutting the branches,” she said about the Biden administration. “The root of this problem is still going to be there.”

Similarities to the Trump administration

“(There are) fewer legal ways to cross the border. And so the more we tighten up the ways to get in legally, the more that people are going to try to get in regardless. Because they need a place to settle,” said Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania, an immigrant legal services organization.


Biden’s policy, which uses similar legal justification to the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, is already facing legal challenges, and more are on the way.

“We intend to challenge this order in court. It was illegal when Trump did it, and it is no less illegal now,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a statement last week.

Miller-Wilson believes that these challenges should succeed based upon laws and legal precedents that have protected asylum seekers, but the conservative tilt of the Supreme Court makes it difficult to know what will actually happen.

“I can’t predict the current Supreme Court, but as an attorney, I believe that this is not a legal (policy),” she said.

To Campbell, Miller-Wilson, and other members of Philly’s immigrant community, the asylum restriction feels plainly political, since they don’t believe it will solve any of the true immigration issues in the United States.

“I see that this is just an opportunity (for Biden) to say, ‘hey, I did something,’” Campbell said.

“The broken system is not being fixed by you playing politics with human beings.”


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