| 20 May 2024, Monday |

For asylum advocates, border expulsions strain faith in Biden

On Tuesday, at the Port-au-Prince Airport in Haiti, confused and tired-looking children clung to their parents, among the 360 family members quickly ejected from the United States during the previous three days.

On Sunday, US border officers on horseback used whip-like reins to stop Haitian migrants swimming across the Rio Grande with food and supplies from Mexico to a filthy encampment on the Texas side with roughly 10,000 people.

The images infuriated some current US officials interviewed by Reuters, who said they once had high hopes that US President Joe Biden would quickly reverse his Republican predecessor Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies and “restore humanity and American values” to the immigration system, as he promised.

Outside of government, disillusioned immigration advocates point to Biden’s unwillingness to rescind Trump’s most sweeping regulation, Title 42, which authorizes border officials to rapidly deport most migrants to Mexico or their home countries without giving them the opportunity to seek for asylum.

Biden extended the March 2020 policy put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, arguing it remained necessary as a public health measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These deterrence (and) expulsion measures deny due process to asylum seekers and place them in harm’s way. That is a human rights violation,” Michael Knowles, president of AFGE Local 1924, the union that represents the asylum officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) told Reuters.

“Our members are outraged by the mistreatment of migrants and the refusal of our border authorities to allow them to have their asylum claims heard.”

Three additional USCIS employees, as well as a government official, raised similar worries to Reuters.

While Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents handle border security and detention, asylum officials interview migrants and refugees to determine if they require protection in the United States.

Top Democratic legislators chimed in with their disapproval. Biden’s immigration plan was given a setback on Sunday when a Senate parliamentarian decided that Democratic proposals to provide legal status to millions of illegal immigrants in the United States could not be included in a budget reconciliation package.


Early in his administration, Biden exempted unaccompanied minors from Title 42 expulsions. Even after a federal court ordered the administration to halt removing families on Thursday, he has included them. The order is being appealed by the government.

“Not to collect up as many individuals as possible to expel them, and definitely not to remove desperate Haitian asylum applicants,” said Lee Gelernt, the senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the administration over the program.

The Trump administration argued many asylum claims were false and issued a flurry of policies to limit protections, moves that were often criticized by the USCIS’ union headed by Knowles.

One of the USCIS officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press said it was understood it would take time to roll back the Trump-era measures, but that some are now losing patience in the face of slow reform.

“It’s appalling, disgusting,” the official said. “What do they believe in, if this is acceptable?” Some colleagues were considering whether to leave their jobs, the official said.

Another USCIS official spoke of being “personally mortified.”

USCIS referred a request for comment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who did not immediately respond.


On Tuesday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Title 42 was being applied to the fullest extent possible, while at the same time condemning the actions of the agents on horseback saying the incident was being investigated and those involved had been assigned administrative duties.

As Biden is facing criticism from the left, Republicans say he has encouraged illegal migration by moving too fast to reverse other Trump-era immigration reforms.

In recent months, the number of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border increased to 20-year highs with close to 200,000 encounters in August alone, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, though that is counting individuals who may have crossed multiple times.

  • Reuters