After Title 42, Biden’s Policies Create New Obstacles for US Asylum Seekers

Interview with Kica Matos, president of the National Immigration Law Center, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

May 11 marked the end of Title 42, a public heath regulation put in place by the Trump administration in 2020 that excluded people from entering the country during the Covid pandemic. Many observers believe that the Trump administration used Title 42 to keep asylum seekers out of the country, as part of Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. As a result, tens of thousands of asylum seekers lived in Mexican border towns in dangerous and squalid conditions while awaiting hearings on their asylum claims.

Whereas in past decades, migrants — overwhelmingly from Mexico and Central America — tried to cross the border without being detected, in recent years many of those seeking asylum in the U.S. now include people from Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela and other nations in the Middle East and Africa who turn themselves in to border agents to have their asylum claims processed. The number of migrants seeking asylum — which they have the legal right to do under domestic and international law — has increased seven-fold over the past decade.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Kica Matos, the new president of the National Immigration Law Center, which advocates for the rights of low-income immigrants. Matos spent several days at the U.S. southern border in early May before and after the end of Title 42. Here, Matos discusses what she calls President Biden’s new asylum ban and what can be done to build a more just, transparent, and humane immigration system.

KICA MATOS: So, the administration, in anticipation of the end of Title 42, they moved to stand up a new set of policies that we describe as a new asylum ban and these policies are really intended to drive away refugees seeking asylum in the United States. We have obligations both under international law and domestic law to process asylum seekers in the United States. Under our law, you are eligible for asylum if you can establish a well-founded fear of actual persecution on the basis of your race, your religion, your national origin, your membership in a particular social group or your political views. So that is really the criteria that the U.S. is bound to consider when people seek asylum, and you have the right to enter the U.S. outside of a port of entry. You can certainly fly in and you can also cross the border outside of a port of entry and turn yourself into authorities and say you are seeking asylum.

The Biden administration, as soon as Title 42 was lifted last week, they imposed a new set of criteria for people who want to seek asylum in the U.S. which is contrary to the law. It is really a set of hurdles to make it really difficult for people to be able to access asylum in the U.S. So, first you have to come in through an official port of entry, which means if you are desperately fleeing violence in your country and you cross the border outside of a port of entry, you are not eligible for asylum.

The second thing is that you have to register and seek and appointment using this CBP-1 app. So, it means if you want to seek asylum you must come in through a port of entry, but you also need to seek an appointment before you can come to the U.S. side. So, if you don’t have a phone, you can’t afford a phone, you don’t know how to download an app, those are barriers against you. The other problem with the CBP app is that it is very glitchy and it has difficulty recognizing, in terms of facial recognition, recognizing Black faces.

The third criterion is that if you come in through any other country before you get to the border, you have to have sought and been denied asylum in that country.

All of those things are the new hurdles and the new criteria that the administration has put into place for people wanting to seek asylum in the U.S.

MELINDA TUHUS: On Thursday, the numbers are up. They had processed 10,000 people I think, but they were down to only about 6,000 on Friday. I know a lot of people and the media were kind of expecting this horde of people to come through. So, how did it go from your direct experience, and were you surprised by what happened?

KICA MATOS: I was not surprised and I will say that the image that you just presented of these hordes of brown and Black people who are looking to illegally come into the U.S. is part of the narrative of extreme right-wing organizations in the U.S., and unfortunately, that narrative has become normative.

It’s a narrative we should reject because it’s a very xenophobic, deeply racist narrative. The other thing I think people need to understand is that the reason we have so many people patiently waiting on the Mexican side of the border wanting to come to the US is that they want to do the right thing. They want to be able to avail themselves of the process that the U.S. offers.

I am heartbroken over the Biden administration’s asylum policies and immigration policies, particularly because one of the promises he made when campaigning for office was to restore the asylum policies and what he has done with this asylum ban in essence is replicate the asylum bans that Trump put into place when he was in power.

We have an obligation under domestic law to process anyone seeking asylum. Notwithstanding, many of the folks we met with have been in encampments where the conditions are not fit for human living because they want to be compliant and follow the laws the U.S. now has in place. Why is it – and we’re taking about public opinion polls that have been conducted repeatedly over the years – so despite the evidence that we have in front of us that Americans support a path to citizenship for the undocumented and want an asylum process that is fair and is just and is humane, why is it that politicians are refusing to follow the will of the Americans and using immigration as a political issue?

For more information, visit the National Immigration Law Center at and the Immigration Justice Fund at

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