WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
16 Sep 2022 | WOLA Statement

Asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border should not be treated as pawns for political gain

WOLA joins human rights defenders worldwide in condemning Republican governors’ dehumanizing use of protection-seeking migrants as props for their political messaging ahead of the 2022 midterms. In 2018, the invented outrage was “caravans.” This time, it is people fleeing danger, here in the United States legally to request asylum, coaxed onto a plane under false pretenses in order to score political points.

What we saw done to the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard is a horrific abuse of vulnerable migrants for political gain. (Imagine traveling 3,000 miles, braving Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap, risking assault, kidnapping, rape and worse on the route through Central America and Mexico, only to get used as a faceless “visual” for conservative media outlets. It is beyond infuriating.) 

What we saw in Martha’s Vineyard on September 14—the rapid and generous response of the island’s community—recalls our very best. WOLA is grateful to the local citizen volunteers who acted so quickly to support the asylum seekers, to all those who are welcoming migrants arriving in buses in Washington, DC, New York, and Chicago, and to those who welcome refugees and asylum seekers throughout the country every day. 

Although the practice of busing and flying migrants from Texas, Arizona, and Florida are actions from these states’ Republican governors, who are not coordinating with local officials at the destination cities, the Biden administration must act, and quickly, to address this situation. Between October 2021 and July 2022 nearly 129,000 Venezuelans fleeing misrule have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, most of them seeking asylum. More Venezuelan asylum seekers are coming: 22,500 walked through the Darién Gap in August, several hundred a day are passing north across the Ecuador-Colombia border, and El Paso’s first-rate shelter system is being swamped by a sudden increase in arrivals, primarily of Venezuelans.

It is urgent that the Biden administration change its approach. This includes: 

  1. Investigating through the Department of Justice whether state officials committed fraud in coaxing asylum-seekers from a San Antonio shelter onto a Martha’s Vineyard-bound plane with false promises of a trip to “Boston” where they would receive assistance and employment opportunities.
  2. Fulfilling Biden’s campaign promise of restoring access to asylum at the border.  This includes ending Title 42 to the maximum extent possible following a May court order requiring its persistence, increasing the number of daily exemptions at ports of entry. It means speeding up the “Remain in Mexico” disenrollment process, and setting up a humane and dignified reception system to promptly admit new arrivals seeking protection in the country. 
  3. Coordinating with governments at the state and local level to provide funding and support to local organizations assisting migrants and asylum seekers. This is particularly important given the growing cases of migrants with no contacts and support networks in the United States.

This week’s news should not overshadow the larger reality: there is a significant increase in Venezuelans migrating through the region, a large population fleeing a repressive government who cannot be returned to Caracas; along with thousands of migrants from other nationalities arriving at our border every day in search of safety and opportunity.

The Biden administration should respond by expanding access to protection and other legal pathways. It should not cede to initiatives of Republican governors, or find ways to expel even more migrants back to Mexico or elsewhere.