Washington, DC – Hours after the Biden administration announced its proposed rule for an asylum ban, hundreds of people across the nation came together for the global release of Honeypot Production’s documentary film Seeking Asylum with a virtual screening and panel discussion featuring the film’s creators and leading asylum experts.
Hosted by Honeypot Productions, Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC), #WelcomeWithDignity campaign, Center for Refugee & Gender Studies, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Hope Border Institute, the event included panelists’ response to the asylum ban news and urgent demands for the Biden administration to reverse course. A recording of the panel will be made available here.
Human rights organizations, religious groups, and members of Congress have repeatedly urged the Biden administration not to move forward with the proposed rule announced yesterday and to restore equitable access to asylum. The proposed rule—published with just a 30-day window for public comment—restricts access to asylum to only those who were granted prior permission to come to the U.S., are able to make an appointment to present themselves at the border using the CBPOne app, or previously sought asylum in the countries through which they traveled. There are few exceptions.
In the Christian tradition, today is Ash Wednesday—a day of repentance. From asylum-seeking migrants—like Kensy in Seeking Asylum—to politicians—like President Biden—Christ-following people will gather today to repent of their personal and systemic sins. In observance of this holy day and practice, people of faith call on President Biden to repent of this cruel treatment of asylum seekers and recommit to building a just and humane asylum system that welcomes people with dignity.
Seeking Asylum event speakers and IIC members released the following statements:
“Determined mothers like Kensy brave unimaginable hardships to seek refuge at our nation’s doorstep,” said Kate Jastram, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “Just hours before we came together to hear her story in Seeking Asylum, the Biden administration unveiled yet another heartless policy that would deny people like Kensy the opportunity to even apply for asylum. The rule announced yesterday is an affront to our laws, treaty obligations, and the United States’ longstanding tradition of welcoming refugees. It is utterly shameful that, once again, this administration is reverting to the Trump playbook and putting political expediency before human lives. People have a legal and moral right to seek asylum at our border, no matter how they get here. We are prepared to fight vigorously to ensure the rule cannot take effect.”
“The story of Kensy and her family captured in Seeking Asylum shows a portion of the suffering, desperation, and pain that the US has forced upon countless asylum seekers as we continue to deny access to those seeking protection,” said Patrick Giuliani, Policy Analyst, Hope Border Institute. “In the face of such barriers, families still have managed to find hope for a better future. It is time for the U.S. to create an immigration system that is prepared to welcome all those seeking safety with dignity and respect.”
“It has always been my goal to give people a platform to tell their stories through documentary filmmaking,” said Rae Ceretto, Director of Seeking Asylum. “In order to change surrounding narratives, we need to cultivate human connection through shared experiences. There is a huge difference between the reality asylum seekers are encountering and the rhetoric that we see depicted in the media. Kensy’s story gives a face to the asylum journey and to all the asylum seekers arriving at our border every single day.”
“President Biden campaigned on restoring the soul of America, which includes restoring our asylum system. Instead, President Biden has made it a practice of recycling xenophobic Trump-era policies rooted in deterrence, like the asylum transit ban announced yesterday,” said Guerline Jozef, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Haitian Bridge Alliance. “This policy will prevent extremely vulnerable people, especially Black and LGBTQIA+ from exercising their right to seek asylum in the United States and get access to lifesaving protection. This is absurd and illegal and will effectively shut down our asylum system, denying many the opportunity to seek safety. This policy will force vulnerable people including children into the traps of human traffickers instead of getting them to safety. We urge President Biden and his administration to immediately change course, uphold our human rights obligations, and create pathways for all seeking safety—regardless of how they reach our borders and shores. And make sure we are on the right side of History.”
“Our asylum system, which details the legal rights of those seeking safety to come to the U.S., has been chipped away. At times bit by bit and at times with a sledgehammer,” stated Katie Adams, co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and Policy Advocate for the United Church of Christ. “The result is a system that offers refuge to few and one unrecognizable to the vision of the commitment of America to be a safe haven for those fleeing harm. The President’s proposal to enact another ban on asylum of such significant proportions is profoundly disconcerting and belies a lack of imagination or compassion. Resources are being spent any way you look at it, spent to either welcome or discourage, to greet or deport. The choice being made is rather clear: doubling down on the failed policies of that past rather than recommitting to building up the asylum program. The scriptures remind us again and again that mercy comes new every morning. We pray the administration turns back from this effort and instead chooses to offer welcome to those who come seeking it.”
“A proposed rule set to be published by the U.S. Government on February 23 will severely limit access to asylum for those who seek it in the United States, placing an undue burden on the most vulnerable among us,” said Joan Rosenhauer, Executive Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. “President Biden committed himself to restoring the legal right for anyone seeking protection to do so safely in the United States. Rather than keeping this promise, the Administration is creating unnecessary barriers for those who need protection the most. We urge the Administration to reconsider this proposed rule and instead restore fair, equitable access to asylum.”
“We are deeply disappointed that the Biden administration is moving forward with this highly restrictive policy which will prevent many asylum seekers from exercising their right to seek safety in the U.S. and will keep vulnerable people in harm’s way,” said Mark Hetfield, HIAS President and CEO. “While there are real challenges at the border, those require planning and solutions. This ban will not filter out people with weak asylum claims—instead, it will prevent the most vulnerable from accessing the asylum system altogether. The U.S. government can and must do better to create a safe, orderly, and humane process for those seeking asylum at our border.”
“I am disheartened and troubled with the Biden administration’s announcement that it will incorporate into our regulations the most harmful legal and conceptual border wall ever to be placed on asylum seekers. This announcement is the legal equivalent of lifting a 50-foot tall steel wall across our borders—effectively banning access to asylum to thousands of vulnerable migrants and infringing on historical treaty obligations and our long-standing tradition of welcoming refugees. Many migrants seeking protection from persecution on account of their religious beliefs will be directly affected by this rule,” said Elket Rodríguez, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Field Personnel and Team Leader of the Advocacy Team for Immigrants and Refugees. “A presumption of asylum ineligibility on any ground is a cruel burden of proof for those who were forced to flee persecution and leave their properties, families, and evidence of persecution behind. Likewise, deterrence policies have never reduced the migrant flow to the United States or the will of those who are seeking safety for their families. Therefore, I urge the Biden administration to reconsider this proposed rule and restore the right to seek asylum according to our international obligations.”
“With this effective transit ban, the Biden administration is sadly embracing the previous administration’s discriminatory logic of deterrence and pain at the border. The ban unfairly targets those fleeing from northern Central American countries, for whom the administration has provided no parole options. To be clear, this ban is regressive, illegal, and will put lives at risk,” said Dylan Corbett, Executive Director of the Hope Border Institute. “There is nothing but a lack of courage preventing this administration from taking positive steps now to repudiate the damage of the previous administration and finally put in place a functioning, safe, rights-respecting system at the border that works for asylum seekers and our border communities.”
“We are extremely concerned that the Biden Administration is instituting a ban on asylum seekers who have traveled through another country to reach the United States,” said Kristin Kumpf, Director of Human Migration and Mobility for the American Friends Service Committee and co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s Asylum Working Group. “This ban is immoral and illegal under both U.S. and international law. We are calling on the Biden Administration to immediately stop their plans to implement this ban and instead protect the right to asylum by creating clear and accessible pathways for those seeking safety.”
“The Biden administration has the power to decide how to respond to the urgent needs and devastating situations of our siblings who are seeking safety at our border. The fact that this new proposed rule would add to the suffering of asylum seekers is a moral tragedy,” said Mary J. Novak, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. “We urge President Biden to reverse course and instead work to build a more welcoming and inclusive immigration system, one that our immigrant forebears would be proud of.”
“We must not repeat our nation’s mistakes of the past. This proposed rule is reminiscent of the times that the United States manufactured excuses to turn back Jewish people and others escaping the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Joshua Lesser, President, Bridges Faith Initiative. “The Biden administration must reverse course on this proposed asylum ban. These are matters of life and death. Instead, our country must implement solutions that align with our values and protect human life. Seeking asylum regardless of the manner of entry into the United States is legal, and is a human right. It is immoral of the Biden Administration to posit that is not.”
“We are deeply disturbed by news that a version of the Trump administration’s asylum transit ban is proposed to be reinstated. Alongside our faith partners, we have repeatedly urged the Biden administration to put an end to punitive, deterrence-based policies at the border that have caused irreparable damage, trauma, and loss of life over the past several years, under both the former and current administrations. By barring certain arrivals from accessing asylum, this ban sets a dangerous precedent that does not treat safety and asylum as a basic human right, but a privilege afforded to some and not others. We have seen the harm that policies like this have done to the lives, safety, and stability of asylum seekers. We have watched as they wreak havoc on the lives of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children,” said Danilo Zak, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at Church World Service. “It is long past time for the Biden administration to keep its promise and protect the lives and rights of all those seeking safety. The administration should expand its reliance on permanent protections, including both the U.S. resettlement and asylum programs, and invest in the communities who welcome our new neighbors. The continued refusal to respect the humanity of the most vulnerable undermines American values, and must come to an end.”
“This rule reaches into the dustbin of history to reinstitute one of the most harmful and illegal anti-asylum policies of the Trump administration,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “It defies decades of humanitarian protections enshrined in U.S. law and international agreements, and flagrantly violates President Biden’s own campaign promises to restore asylum. Requiring persecuted people to first seek protection in countries with no functioning asylum systems themselves is a ludicrous and life-threatening proposal.”
“The success of our southern border should not be measured by the number of people we turn away to death and persecution, but by the number of people we welcome to safety,” said Ronnate Asirwatham, Director, Government Relations, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. “It is shameful that the Biden administration has proposed this new rule, ending the right to seek asylum on our southern border. The southern border is where the most vulnerable Black and Brown immigrants come to seek safety.”
“The proposed rule by the Biden Administration exacerbates an ‘already broken immigration system’,” said Rev. Laura Kigweba James, Director of Grassroots Organizing, The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. “Our faith compels us to eliminate obstacles for persons seeking access to safety and security. As United Methodists we are calling for an end to this proposed rule and for a just and equitable asylum process that centers the dignity and care for all people.”
“Mr. President, look at their faces – the faces of the asylum seekers you seek to deny,” said Fran Eskin-Royer, Executive Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. “They have risked their lives to make it to freedom, to make it to our border and to be let in. They have fled fear, starvation, violence, and death threats. It is our duty – your duty – to welcome them, not turn them away.”
“Using our broken immigration system as an excuse to enact more barriers to asylum only increases the harm inflicted on vulnerable people forced to flee their home countries,” said Susan Gunn, Director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. “I ask President Biden to look to international asylum law and his strong moral compass to find a more just, more merciful way to meet the needs of desperate asylum seekers.”
“We are deeply disappointed in the Biden administration’s proposed rule limiting the ability of people to claim asylum. The immigration system is undeniably broken. Years of congressional inaction on immigration reform is shameful. But this proposal further turns the United States’ back on the most vulnerable people, ” said Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Reform Jewish Movement’s Commission on Social Action. “Time and again, the Jewish people have experienced the consequences of harsh policies and indifference to the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people. Today, we are deeply pained by and committed to addressing the suffering of those seeking safety and security within our borders. It is far past time for the administration to restore asylum for all, rather than responding crisis by crisis, with temporary protections, one nationality at a time. And it is also far past time for Congress to work with the Administration on a sensible and just overhaul of our immigration system. We strongly urge the Biden administration to repeal this proposed rule and restore a just and humane asylum system for all those seeking refuge.”
“The Franciscan Action Network is greatly disappointed in the Biden administration essentially breaking its promise to restore asylum protections in the U.S.” said Associate Director Sr. Marie Lucey, OSF. “The proposed rule announced yesterday is the latest in a long list of restrictions on America’s already tangled asylum system and will serve to erect new barriers to people fleeing war, violence, and persecution. We urge the administration to instead implement a compassionate, human rights centered approach that is lawful and welcoming.”
Seeking Asylum panelists were
- Bilal Askaryar, Interim Campaign Manager, #WelcomeWithDignity, moderator
- Kate Jastram, Director of Policy & Advocacy, Center for Refugee & Gender Studies
- Guerline Jozef, Co-founder and Executive Director, Haitian Bridge Alliance
- Patrick Giuliani, Policy Analyst, Hope Border Institute
- Rae Ceretto, Director of Seeking Asylum
- Kelly Scott, Producer of Seeking Asylum