WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) today expressed deep concern over yesterday’s introduction of the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act by US Senators John Cornyn and Kyrsten Sinema and US Representatives Henry Cuellar and Tony Gonzales. In response, Katharina Obser, acting director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at WRC said:
“Far from creating appropriate and humane solutions to meet the needs of families, women, and children seeking protection, this bill doubles down on an ineffective and cruel deterrence framework. If passed, the bill would subject families and adults to an inherently unfair and traumatic rapid 72-hour screening or even full adjudication process while still in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.
“CBP facilities—even the new ones envisioned under this bill—are no places for families or children to stay a moment longer than absolutely necessary. CBP facilities are notorious for their poor and unsanitary conditions and overcrowding, and, in recent years, multiple migrants—including children—have suffered horrendous medical care and, in tragic cases, died after being taken into CBP custody. Previous CBP rapid asylum processing pilots at the border have demonstrated over and over the impossibility of a fair process under such circumstances, resulting in women, families, and others who are eligible for protection being wrongfully deported to harm. The bill’s several positive provisions for expanded access to legal information presentations, or calls for access to (but no funding for) counsel, cannot mitigate the irreparable harms of expedited border processing. Moreover, the bill is silent on the critical need to end the use of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention for those in the asylum process and others.
“We are also concerned about provisions around the processing of unaccompanied children, particularly those relating to the release of children to sponsors. If enacted, this bill would effectively reinstate many of the harmful pieces of the now-rescinded 2018 information-sharing agreement between the Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It would bring inappropriate immigration enforcement measures into the sponsor-vetting process and slow down family reunification by creating a chilling effect on relatives who wish to come forward, leaving children to languish in government custody. We’ve seen this play out before: it did not make children safer nor did it lead to any efficiencies; it only fulfilled the purpose of cruelty.
“There is so much that is broken about the asylum system in the United States, starting with the fact that even under the current Biden administration, most are completely denied the basic right to seek asylum at U.S. borders in this moment at all. If Congress is serious about enacting legislative solutions to restore fairness, humanity, and order to the U.S. asylum system, legislation such as the Refugee Protection Act and other bills can serve as a model for doing just that.