Letter to Biden Administration Welcoming Asylum Executive Order, Urging Swift Rescission of Harmful Policies

Hon. Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500


Dear President Biden:

The executive orders your administration issued last week are welcome initial steps toward ending the illegal and inhumane asylum and border policies implemented by the Trump administration. The undersigned faith-based, legal, humanitarian, and human rights organizations urge your administration to swiftly rescind the harmful policies still in place, provide refuge to children, families, and adults fleeing persecution and torture in compliance with U.S. law and treaty obligations, communicate and coordinate with civil society groups assisting asylum seekers, and ensure sufficient resources are dedicated to guarantee a humane and dignified reception of people seeking protection.

We applaud your administration’s rescission of some unlawful Trump administration policies, including the asylum entry ban proclamation, the use of fast-track deportation programs that block asylum seekers from access to legal counsel, and the “zero tolerance” policy that led to large-scale family separations. We also welcome the State Department’s announcement, following your directive to review the asylum cooperative agreements, that it “has suspended and initiated the process to terminate” these agreements, which transfer asylum seekers to countries that are not safe for refugees and do not have functioning asylum systems. 

Your executive order issued on February 2, 2021 directs prompt review of some Trump administration policies, including the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the misuse of Title 42 public health authority, and the third-country transit ban. We urge your administration to complete rapid reviews of these and other policies listed in the order and to end them expeditiously. Their illegality and devastating consequences are abundantly clear. Public health experts have repeatedly confirmed that policies to block and expel asylum seekers do not safeguard public health. Review of expedited removal and asylum eligibility, as indicated in the order, are also crucial, and we look forward to engaging with your administration on needed reforms. 

Every day that holdover Trump administration policies remain in effect, people seeking U.S. humanitarian protections are being turned away or expelled to places where their lives are at risk in violation of U.S refugee and anti-trafficking laws and treaty obligations. This week a dozen Mexican police officers from a reportedly U.S-trained unit were implicated in a January 2021 massacre of Guatemalan migrants in the state of Tamaulipas, where the United States continues to expel individuals under Title 42 and where thousands of people await MPP adjudication of their requests for asylum in the United States. There were already over 1,300 public reports of rape, kidnapping, and assault against people forcibly returned to Mexico under MPP alone. This past week, Haitian migrants, including asylum seekers, were expelled to the country they fled without access to the U.S. asylum system. Families and adults, including asylum seekers, continue to be expelled to Mexico. In addition, the third-country transit ban – an interim version of which was vacated and enjoined by separate federal courts – was finalized in late December 2020 by the Trump administration and is now back in effect. It bars asylum for virtually all refugees seeking protection at the southern border and separates refugee families. A deportation flight to Cameroon, which had included asylum seekers denied protection because of the illegal third-country transit ban, was cancelled this week just hours before takeoff.

As the administration reviews these policies, every day counts. Many families seeking asylum in the United States remain separated, torn apart by U.S. border officers who forcibly returned or expelled their family members alone to Mexico. While the review takes place and as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) begins to receive, rather than block or expel, people seeking protection in the United States, the administration must ensure that:

  • local Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers adhere to interim instructions and guidance;

  • DHS and other relevant agencies coordinate and communicate effectively with NGOs that have been preparing to receive and assist asylum seekers;

  • asylum seekers are not sent to immigration detention but released through parole or other legal authority and referred to case-management services operated by non-profit organizations for additional immigration court appearance support where needed;

  • children arriving at the border are protected, guaranteed fair opportunities to seek relief, and relevant agency policies and procedures ensure consideration of the best interests of the child in every decision and compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act;

  • adequate financial, logistical and other support for organizations and local governments sheltering and arranging onward transportation is provided to ensure the humane and orderly reception of people seeking protection in the United States; and

  • support is distributed to UNHCR, shelters, and other civil society organizations that provide for the basic needs of people forced to wait in Mexico.

In the coming days, your administration must also swiftly address other harmful and illegal policies not mentioned in the Executive Order that block, punish and deny relief to children, families and adults seeking humanitarian protections in the United States, including:

  • asylum turnbacks through the so-called “metering” of asylum seekers at ports of entry, which effectively deprives them of access to the U.S. asylum system;

  • detention of asylum seekers, including families, and denial of parole, which illegally punishes people seeking refugee protection in the United States, as well as reports of discriminatory detentions and release denials of African and other Black asylum seekers and migrants;

  • a slew of regulations, policies, and Trump administration Attorney General rulings that aim to undermine U.S. refugee law through executive action, subvert due process norms, and rush immigration court adjudications;

  • criminal prosecutions for unauthorized entry/re-entry, including of asylum seekers, in violation of U.S. treaty obligations; 

  • review politicized hiring and promotion of immigration judges and Board of Immigration Appeals members biased against asylum seekers and other immigrants; 

  • lack of appointed counsel for people in removal proceedings, including children and indigent asylum seekers; and

  • cruel restrictions on work authorization, denying asylum seekers the ability to support themselves or forcing them to work informally under exploitative conditions as they wait adjudication of their claims. Delayed access to work authorization should be reviewed especially in light of the lack of federal or state assistance to asylum seekers during the lengthy adjudication period.

Finally, we are grateful to see your administration commit to restarting the Central American Minors (CAM) program, which provided a pathway to safety through resettlement or humanitarian parole for children from the Northern Triangle of Central America by reuniting them with a parent in the United States. As your administration initiates this process, we recommend:

  • providing necessary resources to ensure the safety of children waiting for reunification, access to legal orientation and counsel, and application preparation support;

  • ensuring CAM parolees can receive Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) services, have a path to permanent immigration status, and that parents in the United States reunifying with CAM parolees are protected from deportation to avoid family separations; and

  • extending CAM to cover young people who aged out while CAM was terminated or have other relatives in the United States who could safely care for them, and considering a program to allow parents to reunite with children in the United States as parolees or asylees.

To ensure communication and address emergent issues during the review of these policies, we respectfully request that your administration:

  • immediately designate public DHS liaisons for urgent cases, including impending deportations, Title 42 expulsions, individuals in MPP facing extreme harm or with medical vulnerabilities, and other emergent matters;

  • convene regular engagements between officials from DHS, Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other relevant agencies with legal service providers and other groups working with asylum seekers; and 

  • publicly provide timeframes for review and further agency actions, including a timeline for transiting asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico due to MPP and/or Title 42 to safety in the United States.


  1. Aldea – The People’s Justice Center

  2. Alianza Americas

  3. Al Otro Lado

  4. American Friends Service Committee

  5. American Immigration Council

  6. American Immigration Lawyers Association

  7. America’s Voice

  8. Amnesty International USA

  9. Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP)

  10. AsylumWorks

  11. Ayudando Latinos A Soñar

  12. Baker Interfaith Friends

  13. Bay Area Border Relief

  14. Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture

  15. Border Kindness

  16. Bridges Faith Initiative

  17. Bristol County for Correctional Justice

  18. Capaz Counseling

  19. Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition

  20. Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities

  21. Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

  22. Center for Gender & Refugee Studies

  23. Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

  24. Center for Victims of Torture

  25. Central American Resource Center

  26. Children’s Defense Fund-Texas

  27. Church World Service

  28. Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

  29. Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

  30. Council for Global Equality

  31. Desert Support for Asylum Seekers

  32. Doctors for Camp Closure: Oregon Chapter

  33. Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project

  34. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

  35. First Focus on Children

  36. Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project

  37. Fordham Law School Feerick Center for Social Justice

  38. Foro Internacional de Migración Haitiana en las Américas

  39. Freedom Network USA

  40. Fundación Latinoamericana de Apoyo al Saber y la Economía Popular

  41. Guadalupe Presbyterian Church Detention Ministry

  42. Haitian Bridge Alliance

  43. HIAS

  44. Hope Border Institute

  45. Houston Migrant Outreach Coalition

  46. Human Rights First

  47. Human Rights Initiative of North Texas

  48. Immigration Equality

  49. Immigration Hub

  50. Innovation Law Lab

  51. Instituto de Geografía para la paz AC (IGP/Geopaz); Institute of Geography for Peace

  52. International Refugee Assistance Project

  53. International Rescue Committee

  54. International Tribunal of Conscience of Peoples in Movement

  55. Japanese American Citizens League – Philadelphia Chapter

  56. Kehilla Community Synagogue

  57. Kids in Need of Defense

  58. Kino Border Initiative

  59. Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center

  60. Latin America Working Group (LAWG)

  61. Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

  62. Mississippi Center for Justice

  63. Mutual Aid Immigration Network

  64. National Council of Jewish Women

  65. National Immigration Law Center

  66. National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights

  67. Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)

  68. NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

  69. New Hampshire – Vermont Guatemala Accompaniment Project

  70. Nisgua-Guatemala Accompaniment Project

  71. Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors

  72. NYCD16 Indivisible

  73. Oasis Legal Services

  74. Oxfam America

  75. Physicians for Human Rights

  76. Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

  77. Prevención, Capacitación y Defensa del Migrante, A.C.

  78. Project Corazon, Matamoros/Lawyers for Good Government

  79. Refugees International

  80. Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network

  81. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Justice Team

  82. Southern Poverty Law Center

  83. Student Clinic for Immigrant Justice

  84. The Advocates for Human Rights

  85. Transcend Arizona

  86. UDC Law Immigration & Human Rights Clinic

  87. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee


  89. Washington Office on Latin America

  90. Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center

  91. Witness at the Border

  92. Women’s Refugee Commission

  93. Yonkers Sanctuary Movement

  94. Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights


Hon. Antony Blinken
U.S. Department of State

Hon. Alejandro Mayorkas
U.S. Department of Homeland Security


Noris Cochran
Acting Secretary
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Dr. Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.