This article was originally published in Bay to Bay News. Haga clic en el botón de la derecha para leer este artículo en español.

Earlier this month, the White House announced details of an impending executive action that will severely restrict people’s legal right to seek asylum, effectively shutting off asylum for the overwhelming majority of people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many similar policies have previously threatened the human and legal right to seek asylum, but none have succeeded in deterring people from trying to seek protection at the border.  

That’s because, for people fleeing for their lives, nothing is scarier than staying put. This is particularly true for high-risk populations. Women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people targeted for their political beliefs often flee countries where they face increased threats of rape and sexual violence, persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, or severe repercussions like abduction or torture for challenging oppressive governments. For some, remaining in their countries could be a death sentence.  

During the Trump administration, the ACLU challenged his unconstitutional and draconian asylum policies. Those policies are just as harmful and illegal under the Biden administration and is why we recently filed litigation to challenge them. 

If one thing has been made clear from years of failures at reform, it’s this — the systemic failure of our country’s immigration system will not be resolved through short-sighted and harmful policies that unlawfully close our doors to those in need of refuge. Instead of doubling down on ineffective enforcement-only measures, it's long past time to enact meaningful reform that addresses the challenges and causes of the humanitarian crisis at the border while prioritizing our country’s commitment to the legal rights and dignity of individuals seeking a better life. 

Punitive measures like mass detention, deportation, and criminal prosecutions for improper entry waste government resources and criminalize the act of seeking asylum. Instead, meaningful reform would address the various aspects of our system that are crying out for change. We must have our government reallocate spending to improve ports of entry, equip our immigration agencies and courts with the resources to tackle case backlog in an orderly and timely manner, and ensure asylum seekers receive support services such as legal representation and medical care during ongoing immigration proceedings. 

Meaningful reform must also look both before and beyond entry and address challenges that lead people to leave their home countries as well as challenges new immigrants face after they arrive in the U.S. This means attacking the root causes of migration — such as violence and economic instability — through international cooperation and humanitarian aid. It also means assisting people after entry by creating channels for individuals to reach family members or sponsors in the locations where they will wait for the government to decide their claims, and breaking down barriers to processing work permits for asylum seekers so they can support themselves and contribute to their local communities.   

Most importantly, meaningful reform refuses to trade our values for political deal-making. 

The promise of the United States is to serve as a beacon of hope and freedom for people fleeing persecution, violence, war, and human rights violations around the world. Turning our backs on asylum seekers is a betrayal of the ideals that represent the best of our country. We’re talking about people who, once settled in their new homes, are looking to work hard, raise families, become part of our communities, start businesses, coach sports teams, and teach our children. They are our family members, neighbors, and friends, and become integral to the fabric of our nation with the right to dignity and protection. 

Simply put, the Biden administration’s executive order on asylum policy prioritizes political optics over our nation’s values and the lives of thousands of vulnerable people. Such measures are not only unconstitutional, but also fail to prevent people from making the journey to the border, as the government intends. 

We must not be silent as political attacks on immigrants continue to escalate. Looking ahead to the 2024 election season, we must commit to pushing back against cruel anti-immigrant policies and defending the constitutionally guaranteed rights and civil liberties of every person in this country — regardless of documentation, refugee, or immigration status — because “we the people” means all of us.