Migrants wait to be processed after crossing the border on Jan. 6, 2023, near Yuma, Ariz. The Biden administration says it will generally deny asylum to migrants who show up at the U.S. southern border without first seeking protection in a country they passed through. That mirrors an attempt by the Trump administration that never took effect because it was blocked in court. Credit: Gregory Bull / AP

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Lisa Parisio is senior policy and outreach attorney at Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP).

U.S. asylum law is grounded and built on the promise that the United States will not return people to countries where their lives and freedom would be at stake. The design of our law, which stems from the aftermath of World War II, makes clear that no matter how people are forced to journey to the United States, and no matter how they are forced to enter the country, they have the right to seek asylum.

On Feb. 23, the Biden administration announced a new  proposed rule that would gut U.S. asylum law and put vulnerable people seeking protection from persecution in even more danger. Modeled after a proposal put forth by the previous administration and already found illegal in the courts, the Biden administration’s proposal would ban access to asylum for people who traveled through other countries and did not seek asylum there first. It would also deny asylum to those who do not use a  flawed smart phone app to arrange an appointment to ask for life-saving protection.

U.S. asylum law was designed to avoid repeating the mistakes of our past. Banning people most in need of protection from finding safety in the United States – including here in Maine – because they have not asked for asylum in a country they’ve passed through both ignores the lessons of the past, and fails to recognize the realities people are facing. Many asylum seekers who are coming to Maine have traveled through other countries that do not have functioning or adequate asylum systems. Some fear persecution in those countries as well as their own.

The smart phone app the administration proposes fails to recognize the lack of resources people may have, is not available in all the languages that asylum seekers speak, and has proven faulty in other ways, including having facial recognition technology that does not recognize people with dark skin.

Biden’s asylum ban is an invisible border wall. And just like real walls, we know both from history and the present that when we limit access to asylum at our borders, we force people to make even more dangerous journeys that needlessly cost lives. And to be clear, the lives we are talking about are of Black and Brown people who, given the lack of availability of visas to the United States and many other factors, have little choice but to seek asylum at the U.S. – Mexico border.

Political rhetoric around immigration encourages us to think and act from a fear and scarcity mindset. Along these lines, one of the justifications provided in the proposal is that it is too costly for states and localities to welcome people in need – a conversation certainly playing out in Maine right now. Despite the resource challenges we face, people across Maine are working every day to assist those seeking asylum.

We know that slamming the door in the face of our fellow human beings is not only wrong, it will not stop people from coming to the United States seeking safety. Anyone would do the same to survive and protect their family.  

The incredible thing is that when we choose to welcome people over inflicting more cruelty and harm, we all benefit. This is especially true in Maine when we look to the needs of our people and our economy. The Biden administration must reverse course on this deadly proposal and all levels of government in Maine and across the country must lead and work together to address migration with pragmatism, humanity, and a vision for a brighter future.

Join ILAP in submitting a public comment before March 27.