WASHINGTON – Dozens of immigration advocates protested outside the White House on Thursday to criticize the Biden administration’s latest steps for asylum seekers, saying that the proposal is overly restrictive.

The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday released the proposal that places new conditions on asylum seekers and penalizes those who do not take the outlined steps. But immigration advocacy groups, including Welcome with Dignity and CASA, denounced the proposed plan and demanded for a more humanitarian approach.  

“When this Biden administration attempts to send away vulnerable populations, we know that it is not a matter of resources,” said Haddy Gassama, an immigrant from the Gambia who is now national director of policy and advocacy at UndocuBlack. “We know it’s not a matter of national security. It is a choice, it is a choice to be cruel and inhumane.”

The proposal, which is open for public comment, requires those claiming asylum to schedule an appointment through the CBP One app to arrive at an entry point. They also have to seek protection in the country through which they are traveling. The administration recently launched the CBP One app to set up such appointments, but many organizations say it has numerous accessibility and technological barriers, making it difficult to use. 

The new policy is intended to take effect on May 11 when Title 42, a Trump-era emergency rule that has allowed the U.S. to keep out migrants on public health grounds, is expected to end. 

Under the proposal, those who fail to follow those pathways will be promptly removed and barred from seeking asylum in the U.S. for five years.

At the end of the rally, supporters rip apart a yellow banner that says “Don’t Come” – which they believe to be President Biden’s message to asylum seekers – revealing another sign that says “Seeking asylum is a human right.” (Kaitlin Bender-Thomas/MNS)

Thomas Cartwright, a longtime immigration advocate and volunteer, said that policy creates what is called an “asylum transit ban” because many of the countries migrants travel through have no functioning asylum systems. 

“Unfortunately, it’s more of the same; it’s very reminiscent of the kinds of rules that were put in place under the Trump administration,” Cartwright said. 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre hit back at the criticisms, saying Thursday that the Biden administration is doing more to provide pathways for immigrants than the Trump administration did. She noted that the president put forth a comprehensive plan on day one of his presidency, but House Republicans rejected it. 

“There is a huge difference here, what we are providing is expanded legal pathways and that is important to make note,” Jean-Pierre said. “That is something the past administration didn’t do and that is something we are doing here.”

But many at the rally said those solutions have harmed immigrants. Several also said they felt betrayed after Biden had campaigned on reforming immigration and providing more legal pathways for migrants. 

Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, said that at least under the Trump administration, advocates didn’t feel lied to about immigration policies. 

“The previous administration was very clear about sharing this hate sentiment towards us,” Torres said. “This administration says that they welcome the immigrants, but we know that this administration is playing a political game because the elections are in 2024 and our people will be a consequence.”

Gustavo Torres speaks in front of a large crowd. “President Biden is playing political games with our people. Thousands of people will die on his watch and this is his responsibility.” (Kaitlin Bender-Thomas/MNS)

Several Democratic members of Congress have also voiced disapproval of Biden’s asylum plan announced Jan. 5 and the proposal announced on Tuesday. 

The latest proposal states it is designed to be temporary, as the administration prepares for the expected increased levels of migrants at the border after Title 42 lifts. However, Cartwright said the administration had enough time to create a more comprehensive and humanitarian policy. 

“There is no excuse in three years not to have been ready with a humanitarian response, not a regulatory response that is basically built on deterrence,” Cartwright said. 

This proposed rule will be open to public comment in the federal register for 30 days. If adopted, it’ll remain in place for two years.

Jean-Pierre also said the Biden administration is the only one putting forth solutions when pressed on the issue more. Several House and Senate members have called on  Biden to provide better solutions. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and others call his proposal a “transit ban” on asylum seekers who don’t first apply for asylum in another country they are passing through.