Human rights organizations condemned many of the Trump administration’s approach to immigration policy but have been less critical of the Biden administration’s border policies while still calling attention to a lack of agency accountability.
Leading advocacy groups like Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) praised the Biden administration for ending several Trump-era immigration policies and advocated for continued reform of migrant detention.
The groups approved the end to former President Donald Trump’s remain in Mexico program requiring asylum seekers to stay outside the U.S. as their cases were processed and praised the end of Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.” However, the groups did not criticize President Joe Biden for reopening Trump-era facilities for migrant children or for allowing them to operate at full capacity against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Criticism of immigration policies under Biden vs. Trump
Amnesty International and the ACLU criticized Trump in November of instituting “inhumane” policies requiring migrants to remain in Mexico as their claims were processed and praised the Biden administration in February for lifting the policy and allowing some asylum seekers to enter the U.S.
ACLU Attorney Judy Rabinovitz said migrants subject to the remain in Mexico program were the “targets of kidnapping, rape, and other abuse,” according to the organization. The policy required thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico as their claims were processed by U.S. courts and reportedly exposed migrants and children to dangerous living conditions, Amnesty International said.
“This Trump-era policy has been a humanitarian disaster, depriving thousands of asylum seekers of a meaningful opportunity to obtain asylum,” Rabinovitz said. “The Biden administration’s action is a welcome start toward ending this inhumanity, but it must move swiftly to remedy the life-threatening situation facing everyone affected by this policy.”
The advocacy groups did not comment on the Biden administration’s opening of private Trump-era detention facilities or for allowing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to operate at full capacity but demand he reform the system. The groups said Biden failed to implement adequate changes and that he’s allowing for similar conditions they criticized the Trump administration for.
Biden also rolled back Trump’s “Muslim ban” shortly after taking office, though people who were selected for the diversity lottery and subsequently denied admission to the U.S. because of the ban are not eligible to be issued visas because the expiration deadlines already passed, according to the State Department.
The ACLU did criticize the Biden administration for “[failing] to help so many of those harmed” by the Trump administration and that a large number of Africans would be impacted by the expiration.
The Biden administration decided not to issue visas to diversity applicants who were denied from 2017 to 2020, though the individuals can reapply and pay a new application fee, according to the State Department.
“While President Biden is right to call the Muslim ban ‘a stain on our national conscience,’ he has failed to help so many of those harmed by it,” ACLU Senior Legislative and Advocacy Counsel Manar Waheed said in a statement. “President Biden just dusted off Trump’s ‘CLOSED’ sign and locked the door behind him.”
Reversing Trump policies is ‘not enough,’ ACLU says
Over 7,000 unaccompanied minors were released to sponsors across the country from October 2020 to January 2021, according to HHS in a recent surge of migrants. The agency interviews potential sponsors, conducts background checks and verifies their relationship with the minor, according to HHS.
The ACLU of Texas asked Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to limit CBP detention, rebuild the asylum center and to hold officials accountable. The letter added that “it is not enough to reverse Trump-era border policies,” and that the Biden administration should implement new policies and standards for detention facilities where migrants are held.
The ACLU cited 13 unresolved complaints filed during the Trump administration including abuse, neglect and trauma reported by asylum seekers. The complaints said migrants were forced to sleep outside, and that some were physically assaulted or verbally abused by officers.
“While we recognize the Biden administration’s efforts to process unaccompanied children in a responsible way that addresses public health needs and prioritizes children’s safety, it is critical that it not repeat the mistakes of the Trump administration,” Senior Advocacy and Policy Counsel for the ACLU Naureen Shah said in a statement.
Shah added that the unaccompanied minors should be quickly processed and united with sponsors in the interior of the U.S. HHS interviews potential sponsors, conducts background checks and verifies their relationship with the minor, according to the agency.
Treating COVID-19 concerns differently under Biden
Amnesty International said in April 2020 that the Trump administration failed to prevent the spread of the virus in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities. Detainees with underlying medical conditions were more likely to die of COVID-19 complications while in ICE custody because facilities were operating under “dangerous conditions” during the Trump administration, according to the group.
“ICE’s unnecessary detention of tens of thousands of people poses a massive threat to public health. Detaining anyone solely for migration-related reasons during a global pandemic is cruel, reckless and deadly,” Americas Director at Amnesty International Erika Guevara-Rosas said in the April 2020 statement. “ICE must urgently provide alternatives to detention and grant humanitarian parole to immigration detainees except in the most extraordinary of circumstances requiring ongoing detention.”
However, the CDC allowed facilities holding unaccompanied migrant minors to operate at 100% capacity starting March 5, an HHS spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
HHS “may temporarily increase capacity to full licensed capacity” though “reactivating beds must be done in a way that maintains a safe and healthy environment for UC and staff,” the ACF spokesperson told the DCNF. HHS facilities are safer for children than Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stations, according to the spokesperson.
Neither the ACLU or Amnesty International responded to the DCNF’s request for comment.