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Faiths urge rethink of Biden’s asylum plans

06 April 2023


Protesters outside the White House, in February

Protesters outside the White House, in February

RELIGIOUS leaders in the United States have spoken out against President Biden’s plans to deter asylum-seekers, in which asylum would be denied to those showing up at the southern border without having sought protection in the first safe country that they had passed through.

The proposals, which have been open for public comment, impose tough new rules on any nationality, apart from Mexicans, who do not pass through a third country before arriving at the border.

Human-rights organisations have threatened to block the order in the courts.

A coalition of 130 faith organisations has signed a letter urging the President to reconsider the restrictions, particularly the proposals to reinstate family detention. The coalition includes the Hope Border Institute, the Church of the Ascension, T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.

Their letter reads: “We write to you as representatives from the faith community, a community rich with different stories and experiences rooted in migration and displacement. Many of our traditions regard hospitality to the newcomer as an exemplary way to live out our faith. While we may hold differing perspectives, we are all certain that seeking safety and protection for one’s family is an essential right that should not be abridged.”

The Roman Catholic Bishop of El Paso, the Most Revd Mark Seitz, posted on Twitter: “This policy is a significant step backwards. It is also a policy that perpetuates the misguided notion that heavy-handed enforcement measures are somehow a solution to the realities at the border. . . The Catholic Church in the United States has consistently rejected policies that weaken asylum access for those most in need of relief and expose them to further danger.”

Other clergy responded during the required public-comment period after the announcement of the proposals.

The Revd Michael Wallens, a priest in the Episcopal diocese of the Rio Grande, who works along the southern US border with Border Control, said: “As a citizen of this country, I expect the United States to adhere to our obligations under domestic law and international treaties to protect the right to seek asylum and to not return people to countries where they would face persecution or torture.

“I believe this proposed rule would put families and other vulnerable migrants seeking protection along the US southern border in further danger. I am concerned as a person of faith and an American that our nation is not living up to the commitment to be a beacon of liberty and hope for all people.”

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