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Commentary: Welcoming Asylum Seekers

Julia Albarracin-Green received the Hispanic Pride Award from the International Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters.
Julia Albarracin-Green
courtesy photo
Julia Albarracin-Green received the Hispanic Pride Award from the International Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters.

As Democrats celebrate the recent midterm elections’ results, some policies for asylum seekers continue to mirror the Trump’s ones. In October, the Biden Administration started applying to asylum seekers from Venezuela the little-known “Title 42,” a provision of U.S. health law -sections 265 of the Public Health Service Act- used by the Trump administration to reject asylum seekers at the border, supposedly due to the health risks posed by the pandemic. Ironically, this same Biden administration was (is) fighting in the courts to stop the use this policy.

The Immigration Law Center explains that people who are subject to Title 42 are not given an opportunity to contest their deportation on the grounds that they would face persecution in the country to which they will be deported. In sum, the application of Title 42 denaturalizes the institution of asylum by sending migrants back to the countries where they faced persecution in the first place. Or by deporting migrants from third countries back to Mexico, where they become victims of violence and the cartels.

Venezuelans, currently among the top nationalities arriving at the U.S. border, were previously excluded from the application of Title 42 because Venezuela does not accept removals from the United States. But in October, the Biden administration decided to apply this policy to Venezuelans as well.

While the Biden administration has now decided to close the door for spontaneous asylum seekers from Venezuela, our state continues to do an excellent job at welcoming them. A few weeks ago, I was in Chicago helping with the reception of asylum seekers and had the opportunity to learn first-hand about this impressive, multi-level operation, involving several state and city offices, as well as nonprofits.

Asylum seekers, most of whom are from Venezuela, had been arriving on buses sent by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to sanctuary jurisdictions, including New York, DC, and Chicago. Governor Abbott, refusing to coordinate with Illinois’ authorities and in an attempt create a sense of chaos, dropped off migrants at Union Station instead of the locations designated for their arrival. From there, a CTA bus took migrants to a shelter, normally a community center or church. Later migrants were placed in hotels until they are assigned permanent housing. About 3,667 migrants have arrived from Texas on buses and 1,997 of them are in state-sponsored hotels.

I saw close to one hundred migrants arrive in flip-flops and exhausted. Some families had traveled over two months, going through seven or eight countries and enduring hunger, violence, and intimidation. Some had walked all the way and others taken buses and trains.

I had conversations with several asylum seekers over the weekend I spent in Chicago. Some of them told me about the terrible living conditions and intimidation they faced in Venezuela. One farmer, for instance, explained how frightening government officials asked for “kickbacks” on his production, which became so large that it was impossible for him to make a profit.

After the midterm, Democrats and Republicans have a new opportunity to come together to solve this and other dilemmas posed by the millions of displaced persons across the globe. As Governor Pritzker said last week, the election from last week “was a chance for Illinoisans to decide who we want to be. Do we want to be the kind of state that provides humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers?” What is your answer?

Julia Albarracin-Green is a Professor of Political Science at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.