The ACLU on Tuesday reminded President-elect Joe Biden of the "moral and legal imperative" to reverse President Donald Trump's dangerous and illegal asylum policies, following reports that nominees for Biden's Cabinet are already walking back a campaign promise to end them on "day one" of the new administration.
"This is a classic bait and switch. It perpetuates Trump's dehumanization of migrants and breaks a core campaign promise."
—Rep. Ilhan Omar
Common Dreams reported Tuesday that Biden domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and national security adviser-designate Jake Sullivan appeared to be tamping down progressive expectations buoyed by Biden's pledge to end Trump administration's Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), commonly known as the "Remain in Mexico" asylum policy.
Under Trump's policy—part of a "zero tolerance" immigration framework in which thousands of migrants have been imprisoned in concentration camps and thousands of children have been forcibly seized, possibly indefinitely, from their parents—more than 66,000 asylum-seekers have been unlawfully denied entry into the U.S. and have been forced to live in tent encampments on the Mexican side of the border without access to adequate medical care, shelter, or legal aid.
"Donald Trump has slammed the door shut in the face of families fleeing persecution and violence," Biden tweeted in January. "On day one, I will eliminate President Trump's decision to limit asylum and end the MPP program."
However, Rice told Spanish wire service EFE Monday that while Biden "is committed to honoring and restoring our asylum laws," he will "need time" to undo Trump's immigration policies.
"Processing capacity at the border is not like a light that you can just switch on and off," said Rice. "Migrants and asylum-seekers absolutely should not believe those in the region peddling the idea that the border will be suddenly be fully open to process everyone on day one" of the new administration.
This apparent backpedaling prompted the ACLU to issue a statement reminding the Biden team that "every day the Trump administration's anti-asylum policies remain in place, our country puts peoples' lives at risk."
"It is the Biden administration's moral and legal imperative to expeditiously roll back all these Trump era policies, in order to restore the right to asylum and end the government's ongoing violations of law," the statement said.
The ACLU welcomes and supports the commitments the incoming administration has made to end Trump policies and bring fairness to the asylum system. Following through on those commitments requires that the new administration immediately begin to safely process people seeking protection, ensure that no person is subjected to unlawful policies—like forced return to Mexico—and repair the damage Trump wreaked with the high sense of urgency required when life and death is at stake.
Other progressives weren't so gentle. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) fired off a tweet accusing the incoming administration of "a classic bait and switch."
"It perpetuates Trump's dehumanization of migrants and breaks a core campaign promise," Omar wrote. "Democrats lose big when administrations won't fulfill their promise. I urge the Biden transition team to reconsider this position."