WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
1 Aug 2022 | WOLA Statement

Do not allow the Senate’s upcoming “vote-a-rama” to harm migrants, asylum seekers, and border communities

When the U.S. Senate takes up landmark health care budget legislation, most likely during the week of August 1, procedural rules allow a so-called “vote-a-rama”: many hours in which senators can introduce amendments to the bill, which the Biden administration views as a must-pass measure.

These amendments, which will be debated and voted on rapidly, must be related to spending, but need not be relevant to what is in the healthcare bill. As a result, “vote-a-rama” provides an opportunity for bad policies to sneak into the law, often in late night or pre-dawn hours.

We are concerned that senators could end up voting on amendments that seek to curtail the right to seek protection in the United States, at a time of historic turmoil and need around the Western Hemisphere. Further erosion of the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, curtailing the administration’s ability to end policies that block access to asylum, or further hardening or militarization of that border, may result directly in death and suffering for thousands.

WOLA calls on senators to oppose any “vote-a-rama” amendments that would further endanger people seeking protection at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The humanitarian situation is already dire:

  • Internal CBP data show that 605 migrants—around 2 people every day—have died painful and preventable deaths on the U.S. side of the border, of dehydration, exposure, drowning, falls from the border wall, and suffocation in a cargo container.
  • Construction of new border wall segments, often in zones of infrequent migration, have channeled more migrants into wilderness zones where the risk of death is higher. As new wall segments are usually 30 feet high, medical personnel are reporting sharp increases in deaths and serious injuries of migrants seeking to climb over.
  • The “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy, prolonged by a federal court in May, has pushed people back into Mexico or flown them to Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and elsewhere more than 2 million times. According to very partial data collected by human rights advocates, at least 10,318 people have suffered “kidnapping, murder, torture, rape, and other violent attacks” after being expelled without being afforded an opportunity to ask for protection in the United States. Title 42 has also contributed to migrant deaths on U.S. soil, as some asylum seekers who would normally have turned themselves in to U.S. authorities instead felt compelled to migrate through dangerous desert routes.
  • The “Remain in Mexico” program led to “at least 1,544 publicly reported cases of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults against asylum seekers and migrants” particularly in Mexican border towns. The new version of the program, which the Biden administration re-started under a federal court order in December, has fallen heavily on people fleeing dictatorships in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, who make up 78 percent of asylum-seekers enrolled in it.

WOLA calls on senators to oppose any and all amendments:

  • That might codify or prolong Title 42, as a Louisiana federal judge already ordered in May. Though COVID cases remain high, daily life in the United States has largely returned to normal: this demands a return to normal immigration law, which guarantees a right to seek asylum, including at the border.
  • That might codify or restore Remain in Mexico, which the Supreme Court affirmed on June 30 that the executive branch has the right to suspend.
  • That might otherwise curtail the right to seek asylum as laid out in U.S. law (the Refugee Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act). All over Latin America and the Caribbean, countries are taking in asylum seekers and refugees (over 1.8 million Venezuelans in Colombia, 180,000 Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, over 100,000 asylum seekers per year in Mexico). It is the right thing to do, and we must send the signal to our neighbors that we are all in this together.
  • That might increase the size and budget of Border Patrol. The agency has struggled to meet its existing staffing targets, while it faces severe accountability issues. Any additional money for personnel at the border should go to the land ports of entry, where most heroin (84 percent), cocaine (87 percent), methamphetamine (92 percent), and fentanyl (85 percent) are seized, mostly from U.S. citizens. Port of entry personnel need the capacity to screen cargo and passengers, and to process asylum seekers. Right now, they’re so shorthanded that the main, recently built passenger crossing (PedWest) at the busiest port of entry at the border (San Diego) is “closed indefinitely” for lack of personnel.
  • That might build more border wall, which provides little additional security benefit while causing more migrant deaths, disrupting border communities, and harming fragile ecosystems.

We need to move toward a vision of border and migration management that adjusts to today’s new reality, in which a large portion of migrants are seeking to turn themselves in to request protection, and deserve due process in accordance with our laws. Please prevent “vote-a-rama” from serving as a backdoor way to move away from this vision and toward a harmful regime that could cause years of real human suffering. WOLA encourages senators to vote “no” on amendments that would push priorities like those listed above.