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Biden Visits Border But Doesn’t Meet with Asylum Seekers as Administration Cracks Down on Immigration

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Immigrant rights groups are denouncing President Biden’s recent announcement that the United States will start to block migrants from Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba from applying for asylum if they’re apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The move is an expansion of the contested Trump-era Title 42 pandemic policy set to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Over the weekend, Biden visited El Paso, one of the country’s busiest border crossings, in his first visit to the border as president. He reportedly did not meet with or see any migrants during his four-hour visit. For more, we speak with two immigrant rights activists who have been urging the Biden administration to drop Title 42 and create the infrastructure to welcome asylum seekers: Guerline Jozef, executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Fernando García, executive director of the El Paso, Texas-based Border Network for Human Rights.

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StoryMar 01, 2024“Just Being Racist”: Biden & Trump Push Anti-Immigrant Policies in Dueling Border Visits
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

President Biden is in Mexico City for the North American Leaders’ Summit with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau. This comes after Biden announced Thursday the United States will start to block migrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba from applying for asylum if they’re apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the move an expansion of the contested Trump-era Title 42 pandemic policy set to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

After the announcement, agents on Friday expelled dozens of Venezuelan migrants to Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, across from the U.S. city of El Paso. This is Venezuelan asylum seeker Jonatan Tovar.

JONATAN TOVAR: [translated] It doesn’t matter where they deport me. I will return, because I want the well-being of my children, for them to be able to study, to have the education I never had. I want the president of the United States to give me the opportunity to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: [Before Biden went to] Mexico, he visited El Paso, which is one of the country’s busiest border crossings, in his first visit to the border since taking office two years ago. Ahead of his arrival, border agents and police arrested migrants sleeping outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church shelter. State troopers have patrolled El Paso’s streets since the city issued a disaster declaration last month to address hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees needing assistance.

During Biden’s four-hour visit to El Paso, he visited a border crossing, walked along a metal border fence, stopped by the El Paso County Migrant Services Center, but reportedly did not meet with any migrants.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Guerline Jozef is executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an immigrant advocacy group that provides humanitarian assistance to Haitians and other Black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. And in El Paso, we’re joined by Fernando García. He is executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Fernando, let’s begin with you. Can you describe this first-time visit of President Joe Biden to the border since he came into office, who he met with and, significantly, who he didn’t meet with?

FERNANDO GARCÍA: Hi, Amy. Good morning.

Listen, I think there’s a big level of disappointment in the El Paso region, but not only within communities but also NGOs, not only because it was a very short trip — I think it lasted — the visit lasted less than three hours — but also in the context where it happens. I mean, as you already mentioned, there’s an announcement by the president that he’s implementing this extension of this anti-immigrant provision, what is called Title 42, that is expelling a lot of migrants illegally. Now he’s expanding it to Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians, along with Venezuelans.

So, I think, in that context, he’s coming to El Paso, and he did not meet with any of these impacted communities. There’s a lot of Venezuelans in downtown El Paso eager to have a solution for them. I mean, we have hundreds of families there that were waiting for some kind of answers to their plea in terms of having some process for asylum or refuge. So, that didn’t happen. So I think there is a level of frustrations, outraged by the fact that the president promised a different approach to immigration and immigration enforcement, but now he’s using Trumpist strategies to keep expelling people. So I think nobody is happy here in El Paso.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the administration said, even though he was in this refugee relief center, there just didn’t happen to be any refugees there at the time. Talk about the crisis at the border right now, and his emphasis, which he said he was going to emphasize before, on law enforcement, as opposed to the kind of work that you do helping people, and meeting with — well, did you meet with President Biden?

FERNANDO GARCÍA: No, we did not. And actually, not that many people got to meet. I mean, when I say that “not that many people,” it’s not that many stakeholders actually got to meet with the president.

I think he did exactly the opposite of what we were expecting, because we were expecting for him to come to visit El Paso, where he was welcome — we would expect him to come and meet with community organizations, with families. I mean, there was families, refugees in downtown El Paso, that they are exposed to these freezing conditions right now. I mean, they are living in a very harsh environment. They are very visible, I mean, in — especially there’s this church that is called Sacred Heart, downtown El Paso, where they are there, actually in the streets. So, the president should have just — probably just ride by that street, along that church, and he will see all of these situations that actually tells the humanitarian crisis at the border. And I think either they wanted to ignore it or they didn’t care about those families out there in downtown El Paso. So I think the president failed in the opportunity to really connect with the border residents and migrants, in what at least seems that it was just a photo op, I mean, just to do the checkmark in the checklist that he already visited the border. But I don’t think that this was a substantial, helpful visit.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would you have told him if you had met with him, Fernando García?

FERNANDO GARCÍA: The first thing is that, please, President, you are not — what we believe is that you are not a racist, you are not anti-immigrant. Don’t use Title 42. Don’t expand it. You were against it. You criticized it before. And now you’re expanding it. And now you are setting out to expel thousands and thousands of people to Mexico, to where there is a lot of violence.

Secondly, give the people that is here already, are already across the border, an opportunity to find a process for them, I mean, because you have left them in the limbo. I mean, you are just offering them expulsions. And there’s a lot of families, a lot of children, that they don’t know — they don’t have a place to go. And they’re suffering a very harsh policy that you, President, are embracing.

And thirdly, I think it is very important that the president understand that we need a more welcoming infrastructure at the border, because whatever we’re doing on the ground — NGOs, churches, local cities — is not enough, and it’s not sustainable. This is something that the federal government broke. I mean, not only this administration, but previous administrations, they broke the system. So they need to fix it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Guerline Jozef into this conversation, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. And I want to ask you about this program that they’ve said they expanded in the last few days, calling it the humanitarian parole program, saying they would accept up to 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela. But what wasn’t talked about as much is they’re expelling up to 30,000 migrants a month who cross without applying. Can you talk about what exactly this means?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Good morning. Thank you so much, Amy, for having me again.

Honestly, this is where we once again see they bring a program that is supposed to be welcoming about 30,000 people from the four countries you mentioned — Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — but, in reality, this is causing a lot of confusions, because at the same time the accord between the United States and Mexico is for them to return 30,000 people from those countries back to Mexico if they try to seek asylum, if they try to seek protection, outside of those parameters. And we see that as an extension of the Title 42 that we have been fighting very hard for them to end. So, now we have this little carrot, where they say, “OK, we are going to allow 30,000 people,” but at the same time, what that policy does, it closes any other avenues for people to come and seek asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally — we’re having a little trouble with your sound, but I wanted to ask you — you’re in Mexico City right now? Can you talk about — oh, not in Mexico City right now, but you spend a lot of time there. And you have been looking at the effects of the policy particularly on Haitians. You’re one of the only Black-led organizations that deals with Black refugees, especially Haitians, coming up over the border. Can you talk about those that are left behind in Mexico and what happens to them?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Right now if you are in Mexico from one of those four countries and you try to enter the United States outside of that parole program, you will be barred from entering. You will be returned to Mexico, and you will be barred from participating in the future to get that protection that you seek. So, what the president said is to wait and stay where you are. But the reality is, when you have a woman who was gang-raped in a country like Haiti or fleeing Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, in the Darién, and this comes out when they arrive, they have absolutely no way to get protection, because what is required for them, they have to have a passport. In addition to having a passport, they have to have a sponsor in the United States who agrees to sponsor them. The reality is, this program would be closed to the most vulnerable people, especially those who are in mobility, whether they are in the Darién forest dying right now or they’re in Guatemala or other places, because if they try to cross any other countries to make it to the United States, they will be barred from even participating in getting any type of protection.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Guerline Jozef, we want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. And thank you to Fernando García. Fernando, if you’re still there, I have one last question, and that is, yes, President Biden is now meeting with AMLO, with the Mexican president, and the Canadian prime minister in a North American Leaders’ Conference right now in Mexico City. What do you think Mexico needs to do, and what the United States should be partnering with Mexico around right now?

FERNANDO GARCÍA: You know, I’m very sure that Mexico do not have to do the dirty immigration enforcement work of the United States. I mean, this idea that we’re going to have 30,000 refugees and migrants being sent to Mexico every month in the midst of this violence — I mean, you’ve heard that there is this violence in Juárez, in Sinaloa, even in Mexico City. So, just the idea that we’re sending migrants to a very violent situation, it is not a solution. I think Mexico should actually stand their ground and say, “We’re not going to accept anything that violates international human rights, that violates the basic right to ask for asylum,” which the United States has been violating. So, I think they need to adhere to the — and uphold the asylum laws that they are breaking right now.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Fernando García, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights, speaking to us from El Paso, Texas, where President Biden visited yesterday, for the first time as president going to the southern border. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about his meeting in Mexico. We thank you both for being with us.

Next up, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government facing outcry after rescinding a fellowship to Ken Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch, over Human Rights Watch’s criticism of Israel’s human rights record. Stay with us.

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Harvard Faces Outcry for Rescinding Post to Ex-Head of Human Rights Watch over Criticism of Israel

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