US President Joe Biden visited El Paso, Texas, on 8 January, where a humanitarian disaster is unfolding at the US border with Mexico.
The visit came days after the president announced new immigration policies, opening new avenues for some migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua, but enforcing draconian measures against others.
The president extended the use of a pandemic-related measure “Title 42”, that his predecessor, Donald Trump, used to bar those seeking asylum from having their cases heard.
Biden had fought to end the policy in the courts, but now is using it to cope with the large numbers of migrants who have come to the US. Among other things, it requires those seeking asylum to apply in their native countries, not at the US border.
“Expanding Title 42 takes US policy in precisely the wrong direction, blocking access to asylum for even more people in need of protection,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of Jesuit Relief Services USA.
“As the administration itself has argued, Title 42 is a Covid-era policy ungrounded in science and instead has been used as a tool to bypass our legal systems and undermine the right of individuals and families to request asylum.”
Among those greeting president on his arrival was the city’s Catholic bishop, Mark Seitz, who is also chair of the US bishops’ conference committee on migration.
“It simply defies reason and lived realities to require those facing persecution, trafficking, and torture to only pursue protection from within those potentially life-threatening situations,” Seitz said in a statement issued before the president's arrival.
“This is a drastic departure from the administration’s promise to create a ‘fair, orderly and humane’ immigration system and will only exacerbate challenges on both sides of our border.
“Even for those who are permitted to enter the United States, we continue to be concerned about their access to housing, work authorisation, legal services and other pressing needs.”
Meanwhile, anti-immigration activists are pushing for even stricter measures to bar refugees from entering the US.
The Heritage Foundation, a think tank with close ties to the Republican Party, released a report that tracked cell phone usage among persons going to church-run shelters along the border.
The report concluded: “Non-governmental organisations have played a substantial role in exacerbating the crisis by actively helping process and transport tens of thousands of illegal aliens into the interior of the United States.”
Catholic Charities USA is among the organisations and groups targeted by the Heritage study.