Op-Ed | President Biden must step up on behalf of asylum seekers

Migrants disembark the bus.
Photo by Dean Moses

Not far from where President Biden is visiting New York City today, hundreds of people are getting off buses thoping to find a new start after weeks if not months of danger and trauma.

Like those who arrived on the city’s shores generations ago, the migrants who arrive at Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal are in need of care, shelter and food, arriving with little more than hope and continuously facing challenges as the city struggles to provide them with resources.

Unlike in Texas, the asylum seekers arriving in New York have been welcomed with open arms. Nonetheless, the political stunts by Gov. Abbot in Texas and Gov. DeSantis in Florida are only deepening confusion and trauma for thousands of individuals and families legally seeking refuge and safety.

These callous governors seek to blame the Biden administration for his failure of vision and leadership, overlooking the Republican Party’s refusal to offer compromise, much less compassion, when it comes to immigration policy reform. Congressional work on reform continues to be stymied not by the executive branch but by consersevative hardliners who, like Abbott and DeSantis, dehumanize our immigrant communities for cold political points. 

But as the midterm elections near, it’s clear that the Biden administration has indeed failed to successfully leverage his congressional majorities and the power of the bully pulpit to keep the president’s promise to support immigrant communities. In fact, the federal government has kept mum as local governments demand more assistance. 

It is imperative that Biden’s Administration and Congress restore our nation’s faith in immigration and the immigrants that have been the backbone of this country for generations. The Administration must recognize that welcoming asylum seekers is not a one-off “event” or “emergency.” This is an increasing global trend that needs a sustainable model of humanitarian reception that treats people seeking refuge in this country as human beings. 

While Trump-era policies like Remain-in-Mexico were successfully ended by the Biden administration, the damage done to our immigration system by the Trump Administration is much bigger than can be imagined. But it’s not insurmountable. 

Asylum is a human right enshrined in international law. Those arriving at the southern border have followed legal procedures to enter our country and yet our federal government still has not developed a structure where state and local governments can work together and easily assess the needs, abilities and opportunities needed for those seeking refuge months after the first bus from Texas arrived in New York City.

Millions of people have fallen into a legal abyss as leaders elected to solve problems and usher our country into a brighter future refuse to enact a pathway to citizenship for the hardworking immigrants who have always been central to our shared success. It’s only worsened since the xenophobic rhetoric promoted by the previous administration polluted the discourse on who is allowed to be a part of the colorful fabric of the United States. 

Immigrant communities are what make states like New York vibrant. There has never been a more urgent moment for Congress to enact a pathway to citizenship for the millions of DACA recipients, Dreamers, TPS recipients and undocumented immigrants who are a part of our communities and economy. 

Beyond providing 30-day temporary shelter and food, we must prepare immigrants to succeed. Our federal leaders must offer the vision and imagination that political animals like Abbott lack to ensure all migrants have access to translation services, healthcare, and education for children. The federal government must begin streamlining asylum applications and support an asylum system gutted by anti-immigrant politicians. 

The asylum seekers we have met at the bus station in Midtown Manhattan are each a profile in courage, embarking on a treacherous journey in the hopes of a better tomorrow. We need President Biden and Congress to show a fraction of their bravery.

Murad Awawdeh is Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition