During the past decade, a human infrastructure of hospitality and care has been built in Colorado. Faith leaders, civic groups and individual volunteers have organized to host asylum seekers and those seeking refuge in our communities – people arriving at the southern border, people coming out of detention centers, Afghan people, and soon, Ukrainian people.
This hospitality is fortified by the expertise that legal organizations in Colorado can offer people fleeing persecution and torture. We know our communities are safer and stronger when we take care of each other – regardless of what country we were born in.
One major barrier to this welcome has been a policy called Title 42.
Title 42 allows the U.S. to close the border for public health reasons. Trump and Biden’s Administrations both continued its use inappropriately; conflating federal health authority with immigration policy and using it to reject, expel and exclude asylum seekers without giving them any opportunity to make their asylum claim, while allowing other travelers in.
The Biden administration recently announced it will not renew Title 42.
Devastatingly, more than 1.8 million expulsions have already taken place since the policy’s implementation in March of 2020. Previously, both Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet expressed support for restoring asylum by ending Title 42. But now that Congress is debating the United States’ commitment to uphold asylum, they have yet to weigh in despite being asked about it by multiple constituents and organizations over the past several weeks.
Since November, people working, vacationing, or shopping in the United States have been allowed to cross the border, but asylum seekers from certain countries are still being expelled due, flouting the United States’ obligations under international law not to return people to countries where they likely face persecution. Scores of public health officials and medical professionals have emphasized there is no evidence Title 42 prevents the spread of COVID-19, while simple humane efforts like masking and testing for people seeking refuge do.
Title 42 has been roundly criticized for its inconsistency and racism. For example, Ukrainians have had the greatest ease entering the US, more so than Afghans who are also fleeing war. Meanwhile Cameroonians, whose country is in the midst of a civil war, and Haitians are indefinitely stranded at our border.
So when the Biden Administration announced an end to Title 42, we celebrated. We thought that this immoral, and likely illegal, vestige of Trump’s extreme anti-immigrant policies would finally be rescinded.
But now some members of Congress are attempting to add amendments to a COVID-19 relief bill that would prolong Title 42 and add new exclusions to asylum. Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet’s silence indicates they may be among the amendments’ supporters, despite committing at a March town hall to work to restore and protect asylum.
These lawmakers will claim ending Title 42 will create problems at the border. But a major driver of the backlog and border crossing is this racist, xenophobic policy designed to enact hardship on vulnerable people and exclude them.
The U.S. government can move quickly when it wants to; recently processing nearly 10,000 asylum claims in two months for Ukrainians fleeing the war. Our senators would do well to look at expanding this model to process all asylum seekers. We must grow our capacity to uphold our values of fairness and refuge and meet the needs of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Our government’s policies have forced thousands of people to unnecessarily wait in limbo or attempt to cross without an inspection in order to exercise their right to asylum, and the United States is notoriously bad at processing these claims. But there’s a simple solution to this, and it’s not summarily deporting asylum seekers. Nor is it a bigger border wall, more surveillance, more armed enforcement agents, nor unnecessarily jailing people.
What works is increasing capacity for welcome by adequately resourcing policies and organizations already positioned to receive people in an orderly and welcoming way. Every time people seeking asylum make the news, our organizations are inundated with Coloradans offering support – willing to open their arms, their homes and their pocketbooks.
Investments in shelters, case management, court personnel, asylum officers, legal representation, and transportation for people to get to communities where they will find welcome and accompaniment for their next steps are cheaper, more effective, and more humane than detention and deportation. Although most asylum seekers have loved ones in the U.S. already, some need support finding shelter in the U.S. while their claims are processed. They need information about the asylum process itself.
Investments in the immigration court system, in asylum processes and supportive services will bring many rewards for Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper’s own constituents, who also have been waiting for years for their hearings, visas, and work authorizations. And it will bring a huge amount of relief to the thousands of individuals and families whose lives have been put at risk simply because politicians want to score political points.
Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet, you must withdraw your support from these amendments immediately and announce efforts to resource the infrastructure of due process and human rights. The people of Colorado look to you to be champions for asylum seekers, for protection of their rights under U.S. and international law, and for community-based alternatives to detention.
The welcoming networks we’ve built in Colorado are ready to help, but we need your leadership.
All of this is long overdue. It is the right thing to do. It is what your constituents want. It is time to restore the rights of asylum seekers.
Jennifer Piper is the program director for the American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program in Colorado. Laura Lunn is the detention program managing attorney at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. Both live in Denver.
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