WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
14 Nov 2022 | Joint Statement

Civil Society Organizations Across the Americas Condemn US Government Expansion of Title 42 and Regional Restrictions to Asylum Access; Sound the Alarm on Growing Humanitarian Crisis

Today, the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) joined 102 other civil society organizations from across the Americas in condemning the Biden-Harris administration’s decision to expand Title 42, hindering rightful access to asylum, and in calling for the Administration to take immediate action to remedy the humanitarian crises recklessly precipitated and exacerbated by this decision. The letter also compels all signatory countries of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection to carry out their commitment to “create the conditions for safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration and to strengthen frameworks for international protection and cooperation.”

Amidst growing concern for the growing humanitarian crisis, the organizations released the following statement:

“The undersigned organizations condemn the Biden administration’s decision, with the cooperation of the Government of Mexico, to expand Title 42. Under this policy, since the October 12th announcement, most Venezuelans who cross the US-Mexico border are denied the right to seek asylum by being expelled to Mexico. The reckless decision to expand Title 42, an unjustified public health policy, violates US and international refugee law and directly undermines commitments made by the administration and 20 other governments at the Summit of the Americas to provide efficient and adequate care to migrants, access to protection for refugees, and promote legal migration pathways and humane migration management. While the expansion of Title 42 was coupled with the announcement of a parole program for Venezuelans, the program’s low numeric cap of 24,000 and strict eligibility requirements— including having a Venezuelan passport and US sponsorship– mean that many Venezuelans in need will not qualify, thus falling short of meaningfully protecting Venezuelans migrants and refugees through the region.

As a result of this cruel and poorly planned policy, thousands of Venezuelans are now stranded across the region, needlessly exacerbating existing humanitarian crises in Mexico and Panama and creating new humanitarian emergencies in Costa Rica, Honduras, and other countries. There has been an increase in requests for information on the asylum process in Panama, but due to challenges with an under-resourced and outdated asylum system most people do not present a claim. While Mexico has reported an increase in asylum applications among Venezuelans, it is very concerning that the governments of Mexico and Panama are increasingly relying on the Venezuelan government to respond to the consequences of Title 42 and sending Venezuelans back on flights with no protection screenings and without monitoring conditions upon return, thereby risking violating the principle of non-refoulement.

It is well documented that migrants and asylum seekers who are expelled from the United States under Title 42 and other programs face extreme threats such as kidnapping, sexual assault, extortion, and risk to life in Mexico, although Mexico has increasingly become a destination country for a significant number of asylum seekers. In Panama’s Darién, migrants and asylum seekers face numerous and increasing perils including the use of more dangerous routes where they are victims of more violent crimes, including sexual gender-based violence to punish and humiliate, survival sex, trafficking, and involuntary servitude by criminal organizations. Options for swift access to protection remain limited in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, and migrant and refugee services along the migratory routes, cities, and border areas in these countries were already overwhelmed.

The LA Declaration on Migration and Protection signed at the Summit still offers the signatory governments the opportunity to establish a rights-respecting, regional approach to protection and migration management. We welcome the announcement of over $817 million in new U.S. assistance to support the declaration’s efforts, including $376 million in additional humanitarian assistance to respond to the Venezuela regional crisis. However, the United States must lead by example in responding to the displacement of Venezuelans and take the immediate steps to:

  1. Take all legally permissible steps to restore access to asylum at the US-Mexico border for all asylum seekers, including by ending the expansion of Title 42 for Venezuelans.

  2. Increase the cap for the special parole program for Venezuelans and make adjustments to the program’s eligibility criteria so that it is accessible to vulnerable populations, including those Venezuelans currently stuck in Central America and Mexico.

  3. Work to rapidly build capacity for the US refugee resettlement program throughout Latin America, to ensure Venezuelans and other refugees from the region are able to benefit

  4. Consider, in coordination with governments in the region, additional rapid response resources to meet the urgent needs of refugees and migrants arriving in or transiting through the Darién Gap in Panama and the rest of the migratory route in Central America and Mexico.

  5. Encourage the Government of Mexico to provide temporary resident status for humanitarian reasons with work authorization (TVRH), renewable for up to four years to all Venezuelans who entered the country before October 19th so that they are able to apply for the US parole program or seek refugee status in Mexico without the threat of deportation.

  6. Work together with regional governments, in consultation with the International Organization on Migration (IOM) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), so that Venezuelans are properly screened for protection considerations, provided information about the US parole program and immigration options in other countries, and that they are never sent back to unsafe conditions, like the international community has recognized currently exist in Venezuela. Venezuelans who are fleeing persecution should not be sent back to Venezuela, in direct violation of the principle of non-refoulement.

We also urge all signatory countries of the Los Angeles Declaration to move quickly on the following recommendations to adhere to the commitment to promoting humane migration management:

  1. Increase financial and humanitarian assistance to institutions and non-governmental organizations providing services to refugees and migrants along the transit route.

  2. Invest in systems of welcome for individuals experiencing forced migration, including access to housing, translation services, psychological and medical care, access to education, legal representation, and employment opportunities.

  3. Implement protection-sensitive entry systems that identify protection needs, prevent refoulement, and ensure timely access to asylum procedures, following the roadmap provided by the UN Refugee Agency 10-Point Plan of Action on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration.

  4. Conduct regular human rights vetting and oversight for all security units involved in migration enforcement activities, including police, immigration, and other forms of non-military and military security in order to combat crime and human rights violations against refugees and migrants.

  5. Cease externalization of borders, including visa regimes and other strategies that can negatively impact individuals without resources and create barriers for them to seek protection.

  6. Provide financial support to undertake a rigorous capacity building program across the hemisphere employing the OHCHR – UN Office of Counter-Terrorism Human Rights at International Borders: A Trainer’s Guide on border governance and the OHCHR Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders. Such a program should target institutions and academies that train all stakeholders involved in migration management, including but not limited to migration services, border police, and national guards.

  7. Conduct sustained consultation with migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, returnees, and host communities as well as migrants’ rights organizations, human rights organizations, and Indigenous-led organizations to receive input on plans related to the implementation of the LA Declaration and in monitoring progress.

  8. Countries in the region should also establish communication, collaboration, and referral mechanisms to grant access to international protection and justice. Transnational mechanisms should be created to ensure appropriate protection screenings, access to justice, and case management for people on the move. For example, this could include creating a humanitarian corridor for the most vulnerable.

So long as signatories to the LA Declaration invest in and expand harmful policies of deterrence at the expense of investing in systems of welcome, regional cooperation on migration will effectively function as border externalization and burden-shifting, to the detriment of rights of those seeking protection and a secure and prosperous Americas region. Instead, all governments should work to support the integration, regularization, and access to international protection and other legal pathways for migrants and refugees across the Western Hemisphere as outlined in the LA Declaration.”

The letter and a list of the signers is available here.

This statement was originally published by the Center for Democracy in the Americas.