Dozens of immigration advocates walked out, virtually, on top Biden officials Saturday in protest of the administration’s decision to continue border policies enacted during the Trump administration, according to several people who were in the meeting.
Advocates asked for time before the beginning of a video meeting Saturday morning with several Biden administration officials, including people from the Department of Homeland Security officials and the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Esther Olavarria. The activists read a statement accusing the administration of “playing politics with human lives” and said they could no longer “come into these conversations in good conscience.”
“We have sadly reached a turning point,” they said, then most of the advocates exited the video call.
“I cannot stand one more meeting of them pretending,” said Ariana Saludares, a 40-year old advocate from the New Mexico-based Colores United, who was in the meeting. “They give us accolades on the outside, but on the inside, we're having to take out the metaphoric knives from our back.”
The meeting and the subsequent walk out was prompted by the administration’s plans to reinstate Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. A court struck down Biden’s initial attempt to do away with the Trump-era policy and the administration announced Friday that, beginning next month, they would reinstate the practice of forcing migrants at the southern border to wait in Mexico pending their asylum hearings.
A White House official told POLITICO that “the Biden Administration has been very clear that MPP is not an immigration policy we agree with or support. That’s why the Department of Homeland Security immediately appealed the court injunction once it was ordered.” In the meantime, the official said they had to comply with the law, and DHS has announced their intention to issue a new termination memo to get rid of MPP. The official added, “We are incredibly thankful and appreciative of the work immigration advocates and organizations do around the clock to improve our immigration system.”
But while the “Remain in Mexico” policy extension was the catalyst for the blow-up Saturday, it was not the only cause, advocates said. Tensions between the Biden administration and immigration advocates have been escalating for months, and are only now breaking into the open. Activists, who have been having regular calls with Biden officials for the entire year, are increasingly convinced that the administration’s decisions are being driven largely by politics and that senior White House officials see the border as a potentially toxic issue for Democrats.
“I think they're afraid of the backlash of anti-immigrant groups, and we'll continue to remind them that that backlash will exist regardless of what they do,” said Luis Guerra, the 32-year-old strategic capacity officer at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network who walked out of the meeting Saturday. “We don't actually believe they're doing everything in their power to actually restore asylum at the border, the way that they say that they're trying to.”
A lot of anger also focuses on the administration’s continued use and defense of Title 42, a public health order first used under Trump to expel migrants at the border over concerns about Covid-19. The Biden administration itself is divided on the continued use of that policy.
Those differences spilled out into the open earlier this month after the administration used Title 42 to send back scores of Haitian migrants who had gathered at the border in Texas. Harold Koh, a senior adviser and the sole political appointee on the State Department’s legal team, recently left his post and sent an internal memo criticizing the administration’s treatment of the Haitian migrants. In the memo, Koh called the continued use of Title 42 “illegal,” “inhumane” and “not worthy of this Administration that I so strongly support.”
Activist anger at the administration is especially acute because they now feel like both Democrats and Republicans are embracing a nativist approach to immigration and they have nowhere to turn.
“It's almost like we were bamboozled into thinking that this was going to be the best option, and it isn't. It's actually worse,” said Saludares. “It is as if you know that your family is now turning against you and telling you that it's okay. It’s not.”