Rights activists praise plan to set up refugee processing but say it can't replace asylum

Published: Tuesday, May 2, 2023 - 2:27pm
Updated: Tuesday, May 2, 2023 - 2:28pm

The Biden administration recently announced a plan to open centers in Central America where people hoping to come to the U.S. to seek protection can begin that process. The news comes less than two weeks before the end of pandemic-era protocol, Title 42, which restricts asylum at the border, is set to sunset.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State jointly announced the plan at the end of April and said these regional processing centers will be set up in Guatemala and Colombia in the coming weeks. As Politico reports, international humanitarian groups including the United Nations' refugee wing UNHCR will screen migrants at the centers to determine if they qualify for things like refugee status or other protection avenues in the U.S. 

Eleanor Acer, director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First, told reporters the centers were welcome change that could fill a gap in refugee processing in the Americas, but shouldn't be used to replace asylum processing elsewhere.

"Refugee resettlement or other regular pathways should never be used to justify denials of access to asylum. Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right and legal under both U.S. and international law," she said.

A rule proposed by the Biden administration earlier this year would restrict asylum access at the border if the person did not seek protection in a country they passed along the way. It’s expected to go into place this month. This week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would send 1,500 military personnel to carry out "non-law enforcement duties" at border to help respond to an expected increase in migration along the border after Title 42 ends.