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Catholic Immigration Advocates Protest Biden Administration’s Asylum Policies

Venezuelan migrants, expelled from the U.S., eat at the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Oct. 16, 2022. They were sent back to Mexico under Title 42 as part of a new policy to curb the number of illegal crossings. (CNS photo)

WASHINGTON — Catholic leaders joined immigration advocates and representatives from other faiths on March 21 to protest at the U.S-Mexico border in Arizona, in front of the White House in Washington, and other locations around the country, speaking out against ongoing asylum restrictions at the U.S. border. 

The protests called for an end to the policy known as Title 42 — a policy that was enacted in 1944 but not put into practice until 2020 by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration — that regulates border crossings during the pandemic. 

The policy gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the power to bar the entry of individuals into the United States to protect the public from contagious diseases. It was invoked in March 2020 and has been used to turn away 1.72 million migrants.

“Working on the ground with migrants and asylum-seekers, we see firsthand how these punitive policies expose already vulnerable people to further danger,” said a March 21 statement issued by Catholic leaders in response to this ongoing policy.

“We are deeply concerned by the Biden administration’s persistent attempts to restrict the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Informed by this witness and our Catholic faith, which affirms the inherent dignity of all people, we urge the administration to end these barriers to asylum,” said the statement signed by leaders of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, and the Kino Border Initiative. 

The statement pointed out that three years ago, Title 42 was put in place to expel migrants from the U.S. “without any opportunity to claim asylum.”  

It also noted that although Biden campaigned to restore asylum, his administration instead “expanded the application of Title 42, even long after most pandemic-related restrictions in the country had ended.” 

In preparation for the anticipated ending of Title 42 in May, the group said the Biden administration has “announced new policies that will make it much more difficult for many people who are fleeing persecution to obtain asylum. These proposals move U.S. immigration policy in precisely the wrong direction and would return many people to danger. 

“We regularly hear firsthand stories of extortion, abuse of power, and crimes committed against migrants and asylum-seekers returned to Mexico and elsewhere,” the group added. 

The immigration advocates noted that the United States “has the right to regulate its borders,” but said this effort “cannot come at the expense of people in desperate need of protection.”

“Shrinking asylum access serves only to jeopardize migrants. Rather than designing policy to keep as many people as possible out of the U.S., our faith calls us to design policy to ensure that we as a country can offer protection to those in need,” the leaders said. 

Migrant families have spoken out about how Title 42 is not currently based on pandemic concerns, and many have said that it has had a devastating impact on those forced to return to cartels and others ready to exploit them. 

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee, has strongly supported ending Title 42. Last fall, he issued a statement expressing his disappointment that the policy had been expanded to Venezuelans seeking to cross the border.

“Now we must all work harder, especially the faith community, to build a culture of hospitality that respects the dignity of those who migrate, and to continue to press lawmakers and the Biden administration to establish a safe, humane, functioning, and rights-respecting system to ensure protection to those in need,” he said.