The public has spoken: an asylum transit ban was bad policy during the Trump era, and it’s bad policy now.
On February 21, the Biden administration released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking laying out the details of a planned asylum transit ban. The proposed rule, a new version of a Trump-era policy, would all but bar asylum for any non-Mexican who crosses the U.S. southern border between ports of entry unless they had applied for—and been denied—asylum in another country before arrival.
It would also require asylum seekers to make an appointment to present at the border in advance. All indications are that these appointments will be made through CBP One, a glitchy smartphone app that is difficult to use for some and practically impossible to use for others. In effect, the rule would cut off access to asylum for many of the most vulnerable people seeking safety in the United States, including those without the resources and ability to avail themselves of the other limited paths available to come to the U.S.
The Biden administration opened a 30-day public comment period—half as long as the usual period—to find out what the public thinks about its rule. The timeline was likely rushed because the administration wants to get this ban in place before Title 42 is scheduled to end in May. If so, this move seems political, designed to replace one preposterous border policy with another.
In response to the proposed asylum transit ban, a coalition of 38 immigration organizations led by the American Immigration Council, FWD.us, and Welcome with Dignity joined forces. Our goal was to make it easy for the public to submit comments opposing the asylum transit ban despite the short 30-day timeline. The day after the comment period opened, we launched noasylumban.us, a portal where the public could find suggested points to make and easily submit their comments to the government.
The public came through. In total, people submitted 32,814 comments to the administration through the portal—more than 1,000 comments a day. On top of that, we were able to track 8,474 comments sent through other pro-asylum websites. That’s 79% of the total comments submitted to the administration.
This means that even if every single comment that came through other sources spoke in favor of the asylum transit ban, the public’s overwhelming opposition to the rule would still be clear.
Now that the comment period is over, the administration is obligated to read these comments and respond in the Federal Register. They will need to address the issues raised by commenters. While we still expect the administration to issue the asylum transit ban, we know that public comments have resulted in changes to other public rules in the past.
For now, we wait to see what will happen and continue to oppose this rule on several fronts. And we’ll be inviting the public to join in again, too. The coalition of organizations that sponsored noasylumban.us is planning a national Day of Welcome coming up in the next few weeks, with options to take part both in-person and online.
This proposed asylum transit ban would be a tragic and dangerous step back, but we will keep fighting it. With resounding public support, we will keep pushing so everyone who comes to the United States seeking safety has a fair shot at getting asylum.