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Immigrant advocates decry Biden’s crackdown on illegal border crossings

Migrants wait to be processed to seek asylum after crossing the border into the United States on Jan. 6 near Yuma, Ariz. (Gregory Bull/AP)
Migrants wait to be processed to seek asylum after crossing the border into the United States on Jan. 6 near Yuma, Ariz. (Gregory Bull/AP)

News of the Biden administration’s new immigration policy spread quickly through immigrant communities in and around Boston. While some saw glimmers of hope, many worried the limits placed on asylum-seekers would create more confusion and inequality.

Biden announced that up to 30,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela will be allowed to legally enter the country each month and stay for two years — if they apply, have a sponsor and go through other security checks. But people from those four countries who cross the border illegally will be immediately expelled and sent to their country of origin.

“Do not, do not just show up at the border," Biden said Thursday. “Stay where you are and apply legally from there.”

Geralde Gabeau, executive director of the Boston-based Immigrant Family Services Institute, said the policy does not respond to the realities facing migrants.

“It’s a real misunderstanding of the situation in those countries that is pushing people out,” said Gabeau, whose organization serves many Haitian refugees. “When people are fleeing violence, when people are fleeing persecution, when people are fleeing gangs, they don't have the time to go and apply to come. They are fleeing for their lives.”

She said she’s heard from some Haitian community members who welcome the news that up to 30,000 people a month will be able to come. But Gabeau fears the policy will perpetuate existing inequalities between those who are well-connected and those who don’t have a relative in the U.S. who could serve as a sponsor.

“It's only those who are fortunate enough to have a sponsor who would benefit,” she said. “Most of these people, they don’t have that.”

Some say the policy, which only applies to people from four countries, also creates another type of inequality.

“Most of the people that are coming right now are from Mexico and Central America, and they are not going to have the opportunity to qualify for this,” said Patricia Montes, director of Centro Presente, a nonprofit based in East Boston that helps roughly 4,000 immigrants each year.

She said the policy of turning people away at the border is a continuation of Trump-era policies that undermine people's rights.

“This violates international law that is in place to allow people to apply for asylum,” Montes said, who argues comprehensive immigration reform is needed.

Both Montes and Gabeau say they wish the Biden administration had given people several months of warning about the new policy rather than immediately implementing the expulsions.

“We're talking about thousands, thousands of people that are already in Mexico, that are already waiting at the U.S.-Mexican border. What is going to happen with them? That's the question that we all have,” said Montes.

“It's really making the situation more complicated than it is already,” said Gabeau.


Gabrielle Emanuel Twitter Senior Health and Science Reporter
Gabrielle Emanuel is a senior health and science reporter for WBUR.



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