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An Im/migrant Well-Being Analysis of Biden’s New Executive Order

By Karla Madera Tejada

On Tuesday, June 4th, President Joe Biden issued one of his most aggressive immigration policies yet - an executive order that restricts migrants from seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border.  


With very few exceptions, the proclamation immediately suspends the entry of asylum seekers whenever the average daily number of migrant encounters in a week reaches 2,500 or more. To put it into context, migrants have exceeded this threshold 110 times of the past 296 months.  


Further, those who are still able to seek asylum must now meet a new, higher threshold to prove their credible fear and eligibility for asylum. Rather than having an immigration official ask if they are afraid, the new policy requires that migrants “manifest” their fears of being deported, also known as the “shout test.”  


This new policy poses many risks to migrants’ well-being.  


Currently, it is expected that it will create dangerous and deadly camp conditions on the Mexican side of the border, re-introducing people to danger, empowering smugglers and organized crime, and denying people with viable asylum claims the ability to seek safety. Testimony from an International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) client, named Maylin (pseudonym), clearly presents how this policy could deter people with valid asylum claims from reaching safety: 


“Maylin fled Guatemala to Mexico with her two children after her ex-partner attempted to kill her in Guatemala. Her U.S. citizen brother petitioned to bring Maylin and her children to the United States. Maylin’s ex-partner found her in Mexico and attempted to kidnap her children and kill her. It is only because of the executive branch parole authority that Maylin and her children were able to enter the United States lawfully, as parolees, where she is able to safely await the adjudication of her brother’s petition for her to become a Lawful Permanent Resident. Under the proposed border closure measure, people like Maylin who have pending permanent U.S. immigration relief might not have any individualized review before being sent back to Mexico or their countries of origin.” 


The International Mayan League also expressed the exacerbated impacts this proclamation will have on indigenous asylum seekers specifically. It subjects them to the “shout test” and a higher threshold to prove their credible fear despite their limited Spanish – resulting in “thousands of Indigenous refugees being returned to danger, persecution and even death.” 


Similar efforts have resulted in catastrophic challenges for migrants seeking asylum. A report by WOLA that sought to detail the challenges for asylum seekers arriving at ports of entry during Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy found that oftentimes, asylum-seekers were out in the open in 105-degree heat and forced to wait days or even weeks in dangerous Mexican border towns for a chance to pursue protection in the U.S. 


Another study by KFF found that asylum seekers who were expelled under Title 42 reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  


It does not end there.  


According to Human Rights First, there were over 13,000 reports of migrants and asylum seekers being kidnapped or facing physical or sexual violence as a result of being restricted from seeking asylum under Title 42 expulsions.  


On the same hand, Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy produced similar consequences, where migrants in Mexico risked rape, kidnapping, extortion, and assault. As a result of violence and extortion by the Mexican police, migrants were afraid of reporting crimes and abuses. 


This executive order also poses a risk to children, as it includes an exemption that allows unaccompanied minors to seek asylum despite the cap set in place. This could encourage parents to send their children to cross the border alone, as was seen when over 12,000 unaccompanied children reentered the U.S. under the Title 42 policy that allowed for the same exemption. These separations from their parents may lead children to face dangerous situations when traveling to the border, exposing them to trauma and stress 


In the long term, toxic stress can result in developmental issues due to reduced neural connections in important areas of the brain, such as damage to the areas related to learning and memory. Toxic stress is also associated with increased rates of physical conditions into adulthood, such as pulmonary disease, obesity, cancer, and heart disease.  


Similar results were found in a study that investigated how immigration-related stressors are associated with disruptions in parent-child relationships and the mental health symptoms of Latine adolescents. The study found that a family member’s deportation (i.e. family separation) was associated with decreased parental warmth and acceptance. This lower parental support, for girls specifically, was associated with increases in externalizing and internalizing symptoms.  


The effects of the proclamation go beyond the next few months. Immigrants and youth will grapple with years of trauma and stress as a result of not being able to seek asylum and escape the dangers in their home countries. 


Karla Madera Tejada is a recent graduate of The George Washington University, where she majored in Political Science and Criminal Justice. Her areas of expertise include immigration law research and policy, with a focus on the complexities and challenges of the U.S. immigration system.  


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