(AP) — The Biden administration
has quietly tasked six humanitarian groups with recommending which migrants
should be allowed into the United States
to seek asylum
, as the administration faces mounting pressure to lift public health
rules that have barred people
from seeking help.
The consortium of groups is determining who is most vulnerable among those waiting in Mexico
to enter the United States, and the criteria they are using have not been made public. This comes as large numbers of migrants cross the southern border
and the government is rapidly expelling them from the country under a public health order instituted by former President Donald Trump
and kept in place.
The government is aiming to admit up to 250 asylum-seekers a day who are referred by the groups, but they have agreed to that system only until July 31. By then, the consortium hopes the Biden administration will have lifted the public health rules, but the government has not committed to that.
Since May 3, nearly 800 asylum-seekers have been admitted to the country, and consortium members say there is already more demand than they can meet.
Except for the International Rescue Committee, a global relief organization, the groups have not been publicly identified; the others are London-based Save the Children
; two US-based organizations, HIAS and Kids in Need of Defense; and two Mexico-based organizations, Asylum Access and the Institute for Women
in Migration, according to two people with direct knowledge who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Asylum Access, a non-profit organization that assists people seeking asylum in Mexico, described its role as minor.
The initiative began at the border in El Paso
, and is now being expanded to Nogales, Arizona
A similar but separate system, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, began in late March and allows 35 families per day into the US at various points along the border, with no end date.
The twin tracks are described by participating organizations as an imperfect transition from so-called Title 42 authority, named after a section of an obscure 1944 public health law that Trump used in March 2020 to effectively end asylum at the Mexican border. With COVID-19 vaccination
rates rising, Biden is finding it difficult to justify the expulsions on public health grounds and faces pressure to reverse the policy.
The Department of Homeland Security
said in a statement that it is working in “close coordination with international and non-governmental organizations in Mexico” to identify vulnerable people and that it has the final say on who gets in, but that its work with the groups is fluid and that it hasn’t identified them to avoid exposing them.
Some consortium members are concerned that asylum-seekers will swarm their offices in Mexico, overwhelming their small staffs and exposing them to extortionists and other criminals.
Critics of the new selection processes argue that too much power is concentrated in a small number of organizations, that the efforts are secretive without a clear explanation of how the groups were chosen, and that there are no guarantees that the most vulnerable or deserving migrants will be selected to seek asylum.
According to Sibylla Brodzinsky, a U.N. office spokeswoman, the consortium was formed after the United States government asked the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
’ office in Mexico for the names of organizations with extensive experience and capacity in Mexico.
“We've had long relationships with them, and they're trusted partners,” she explained.
According to the groups, they are simply speeding up the process, but cases of vulnerable migrants can come from anywhere.
The International Rescue Committee is collaborating with local organizations in Nogales, Arizona, and using a program that connects migrants via social media
and smartphones to find those “facing extreme life-threatening situations,” according to Raymundo Tamayo, the group’s director in Mexico, and plans to refer up to 600 people to US officials each month.
Asylum-seekers who have been in Mexico for a long time, are in need of immediate medical attention or have disabilities, are members of the LGBTQ
community, or are non-Spanish speakers will be given special consideration, according to Tamayo, though each case will be judged on its own merits.
's Lee Gelernt stated that advocacy groups are in "a very difficult position because they need to essentially rank the desperation" of people, but he insisted that this was only a temporary situation because the government "cannot farm out the asylum system."
The most vulnerable migrants may be too scared or uninformed to draw attention to themselves, according to Margaret Cargioli, managing attorney for Immigrant Defenders Law Center, a Los Angeles-based organization that joined the ACLU-led effort after “more organizations became aware of it.” She referred to the approach as a “Band-Aid” while the health rules remain in place.
Non-participating migration experts have questioned why the government has not been more transparent.
“It’s been murky,” said Jessica Bolter, an analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute who believes the administration is quietly attempting to be humane while also encouraging more people to come, a balancing act she doubts will succeed.
“Putting out clear and accurate information about how and who might get in may result in fewer migrants making the journey, so there isn’t this game of chance that seems to be in place right now,” Bolter said.
, border agents recorded the highest number of encounters with migrants in more than 20 years, though many were repeat crossers who had previously been deported, and the number of children crossing the border alone is also at an all-time high.
Against this backdrop, some advocates are seeing the beginnings of the “humane” asylum system that Biden promised during his campaign, though details have been elusive, with administration officials claiming that more time is required.
Susana Coreas, who fled El Salvador, was among those identified as vulnerable and allowed into the United States last month; Coreas had been in Ciudad Juarez for more than a year waiting to apply for asylum but was barred by the public health order.
She and other transgender
women renovated an abandoned hotel to provide a safe haven after feeling uneasy at a number of shelters in the rough Mexican city and receiving assistance from the International Rescue Committee.
However, problems persisted: one transgender woman was threatened with a knife, and another was threatened with a gun
“There was a lot of anxiety,” Coreas admitted, “but I now feel at ease.”