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#WelcomeWithDignity: Telling People Seeking Asylum ‘Do Not Come’ is Heartless and It Doesn’t Work

Washington — Yesterday, in a CNN town hall President Biden was asked about his administration’s immigration policy with regards to refugees and people seeking asylum and said: “they should not come.” The President of the United States knows seeking asylum is a legal right under U.S. law, and a fundamental human right enshrined in international treaties and conventions–telling people seeking protection otherwise is inexcusable. Members of the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign responded:

“I was in Nogales, Sonora yesterday and met a 24-year-old single mother with her two young children,” shared Laurie Benson, Founder of Madres e Hijos. “This mother fled Guerrero when her brother was murdered and the gang told her that she and her children were next. The Biden Administration’s insistence that asylum seekers not come and the idea that they should seek asylum in their home countries undermines the very purpose and human right of asylum. People fleeing for their lives do not have the luxury of staying home and maneuvering the asylum process. This Administration must uphold the asylum system and move quickly to right the damage being done by their comments and actions.”

“My family and I fled Honduras to seek asylum in the U.S. because the Honduran government would not protect us,” said Suny Rodriguez, a member of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), who crossed the border in 2015 and has since won immigration relief. “President Biden, you need to understand that when you are running for your life, there is no time to wait. Asylum seekers leave everything behind and are exposed to a dangerous journey because our lives depend on it. We deserve to have our plea for protection heard instead of being told not to come.”

“It is shameful to witness how quickly the theme of the Biden administration has shifted from ‘Build Back Better’ to ‘Do Not Come,'” said Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America’s Global Policy Lead. “After promising to restore humanity to U.S. immigration policy, it is shocking to hear this administration rely on some of the same tired and abhorrent tropes — and policies — as President Trump. Seeking asylum is a right and everyone deserves equal protection under the law. It’s that simple. The Biden administration must immediately end its casual dehumanization of people who want nothing more than safety for themselves and their families.”

“The Biden administration’s insistence that asylum seekers ‘do not come’ – do not exercise their legal right to seek asylum – is yet another tried and failed, abusive Trump-era strategy among the many President Biden has adopted,” said Ariana Sawyer, Human Rights Watch, US Border Researcher. “The Biden administration should stop employing rhetoric and policies that undermine the asylum system it swore to defend.”

“LGBTQ asylum seekers continue to be abused violently while they wait. We need to remove hurdles so people can be safe, which is what asylum is about,” said Craig Scott, Rainbow Beginnings Director.

“For an administration that is trying to put climate change at the heart of its legislative agenda, it is imperative that this administration comprehends the extensive impacts climate change is having on Central American countries, in particular Indigenous peoples and communities of those regions,” said Dr. Jessica Hernandez, Climate Justice Policy Strategist at International Mayan League. “The climate change exodus is resulting in the forced displacement of poor and Indigenous peoples, yet the role climate change plays in this forced displacement is ignored by this administration’s anti-immigration/refugee discourse.”

“Any person who wishes to seek safety in the U.S. has the right to do so,” said Denise Bell, Researcher for Refugee & Migrant Rights at Amnesty International USA. “The message coming out from the White House, again and again, is not what Joe Biden promised and we plan to hold him accountable for upholding human rights as we have other Presidents. These statements are simply unacceptable and they send the wrong message not only to communities around the world seeking safety but also those eager to welcome them.”

“People have the right to seek asylum, period. After four years of the Trump administration fostering xenophobia and using every opportunity to dismantle our protection systems, it is deeply disappointing to hear President Biden tell asylum seekers not to come,” said Nili Sarit Yossinger, Executive Director of Refugee Congress. “This rhetoric is nothing less than a continuation of the past four years and stands counter to the sentiments of communities all around the country that stand ready to welcome. This is not what was promised. This is not acceptable. And this administration must be held accountable for its words and its actions.”

“Everyone deserves a safe place to call home, and denying asylum seekers safety and protection is wrong,” said Meredith Owen, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Church World Service. “If the administration were serious about restoring asylum protections, they would start by upholding our moral and legal obligations to those fleeing violence and persecution, instead of turning them back to the danger they fled. Seeking asylum in the United States is legal, and each person arriving at the U.S. border is a human being who deserves respect, dignity, and safety. We urgently call on the Biden administration to end its attacks on asylum seekers, terminate Title 42 expulsions, and swiftly rebuild the U.S. asylum system so that it is equitable and welcoming for all.”

“Asylum is a crucial protection for people fleeing persecution in their home countries,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First. “President Biden should stand up for U.S. values, refugee laws, and treaties, instead of undermining critical human rights protections like the right to seek asylum. The President’s statement telling families, children, and adults fleeing for their lives that ‘they should not come’ is deeply troubling.”

“The president’s remarks are the latest in a series of dangerous statements by his administration insisting that refugees ‘not come’ to the U.S. and threatening to return them to danger,” said Kate Jastram, Policy and Advocacy Director at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “People seek asylum at our borders because doing so is their last chance at survival. Suggesting that they instead wait out a lengthy legal process in the very countries they are fleeing is callous in the extreme, and suggests a deep misunderstanding of our laws and treaty obligations. Asylum by definition exists to provide safe haven to those who cannot find protection in their home countries. Denying people their right to seek it violates our laws, flies in the face of the president’s campaign promises, and cements the shameful legacy of the Trump administration. Enough.”

“While we appreciated the Administration’s efforts to increase opportunities for refugee processing in-country and in nearby countries, we are deeply concerned that the Administration fails to understand the urgent need of people to seek safety now, who cannot wait for this process to be set up, and who, if not welcomed here under our laws and in line with our American values, face persecution, torture, and death,” said Sara Ramey, Immigration Attorney & Executive Director, Migrant Center for Human Rights.

“Telling asylum seekers they should not seek asylum in the United States is like telling someone whose house is on fire to just wait a bit longer,” said Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS. “Asylum seekers are people who are fleeing violence and looking for safety. You can’t dismiss them by saying ‘don’t come.’ People are coming to the U.S. with nothing but fear for their lives, and you cannot simply tell them not to come. That is not leadership. President Biden has said that we need an immigration system that both reflects our values and upholds our laws. Let him use the right language and action and work to put that in place.”

“Last night, President Biden reiterated his administration’s unconscionable position that families and others seeking safety shouldn’t come to the U.S. border,” said Katharina Obser, Acting Director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “People whose lives are at risk cannot simply wait in danger until the President invites them to exercise their legal right to seek safety. Access to asylum is a legal right. Seeking safety is a human right. On Independence Day this year, President Biden stated that our immigration system can both reflect our values and uphold our laws, and asylum is one of those laws we must vehemently defend. Those seeking safety should be welcomed with dignity, not subject to misguided deterrence. WRC is extremely disappointed that the Biden administration continues to parallel the Trump administration’s inhumane rhetoric toward immigrants by demanding they not come seek safety.”

“Seeking asylum in the United States is legal,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, American Immigration Council, Policy Counsel. “As years of experience have shown, telling people not to come to the United States is cold comfort for those who have no other choice. Rather than trying to deter vulnerable people from fleeing persecution, the Biden administration should be focused on doing what it promised on the campaign trail; restoring access to asylum at the border.”

“Seeking Asylum is a human right and guaranteed by U.S. law,” said Ronnate Asirwatham, Director Government Relations, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. “U.S. law guarantees that to seek asylum one must be physically present in the U.S. or arrive at the border. The president saying ‘don’t come…seek to qualify at a U.S. embassy’ is deeply troubling and wrong.”

“If only, Mr. President, I could say, ‘Don’t come,’ to the gang attempting to recruit my son. If only I could say, ‘Don’t come,’ to the sun and the rain, which have laid waste to my few crops. If only I could say, ‘Don’t come,’ to my toddler, who cries out in pain from hunger because I have nothing left to feed him. If only I could come to your Embassy, Mr. President. But it’s too far and I do not have the bus fare. My needs are too urgent, Mr. President. They cannot wait. So, here I come.” Sarah Towle for Witness at the Border.

“It’s a fundamental human right, enshrined in US law, to seek asylum, said Jane Bentrott, counsel with Justice Action Center. “ The Biden-Harris administration serve neither our values nor our laws by seeking to discourage those who are fleeing rape, murder, and devastating hunger from finding safety.”

“People seeking safety deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that more often than not the current realities at the border fall short of this basic measure,” said Charlene D’Cruz, Director of Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon. “Telling people ‘don’t come’ is not only insensitive, but ignores the very real root causes of migration, and the U.S.’s involvement therein. People don’t leave their homes and their families behind to make the treacherous journey north because they want to, they do it because they have no choice. Seeking asylum is a human right, one that is recognized by international and domestic law, and the Biden Administration must do everything in its power to uphold that.”

“We are deeply disappointed by President Biden’s message to asylum-seekers yesterday. Families and children escaping danger and persecution must be allowed to pursue their human right of asylum, at any time, and it is imperative that the American President vigorously defends that right,” said Santiago Mueckay, Manager of Federal Government Relations at Save the Children. “The Biden administration must remain committed to treating asylum-seeking families with dignity and respect, and uphold its long-stated promise to reshape our asylum and immigration systems.”

“Following recent comments by other high-level administration officials, it is deeply troubling to hear President Biden himself appear to abdicate the country’s obligations to protect asylum seekers,” said Melissa Crow, a senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Immigrant Justice Project. ”Seeking protection from violence and persecution is a fundamental human right, and the right to seek asylum is protected under both domestic and international law. To truly turn the page on the horrors of the past administration’s policies and the long-flawed immigration system, this administration must embrace these fundamental rights and work to build a system that addresses them.”


Join the movement and sign our pledge to #WelcomeWithDignity.

The Welcome with Dignity Campaign is composed of more than 80 organizations committed to transforming the way the United States receives and protects people forced to flee their homes to ensure they are treated humanely and fairly. To learn more and join our campaign visit: welcomewithdignity.org