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Biden administration unveils new asylum rule on US-Mexico border | Migration News

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Washington, DC – The Biden administration has announced new procedures that it says will expedite the processing of asylum seekers at the United States-Mexico border, but immigrant advocates say the change may undermine fair asylum decisions.

In a statement on Thursday, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said the new rule will allow immigration officers at the border to conduct “credible fear screenings” of asylum seekers “who assert a fear of persecution or torture”.

If they pass that screening, the asylum seekers – who would otherwise be subjected to immediate removal under a contentious border restriction known as Title 42 – will have their claims assessed.

The move, which aims to process cases within 90 days, would bypass the currently backlogged system in which only immigration judges working for the US Department of Justice oversee such cases. The process currently takes several years to adjudicate.

“The current system for handling asylum claims at our borders has long needed repair,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “Through this rule, we are building a more functional and sensible asylum system to ensure that individuals who are eligible will receive protection more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be rapidly removed.”

Migrants at border
The new rule would bypass the currently backlogged system where only immigration judges working for the Justice Department oversee asylum cases [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]

The change comes as US President Joe Biden faces growing pressure to end the government’s use of Title 42, a pandemic-era restriction that allows US border officials to immediately send most asylum seekers back to Mexico or to their country of origin, without assessing their claims.

More than 1.6 million expulsions have been carried out under Title 42 since the policy was put in place in March 2020 by then-President Donald Trump. The order relies on guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is expected to decide by the end of March whether to renew Title 42.

Rights groups have repeatedly called on the Biden administration to revoke the policy, blasting it as cruel and a violation of US and international laws. Human Rights First, a US-based rights group, has recorded nearly 10,000 reports of kidnapping, torture, rape, and other violent attacks against people turned away at the US southern border as a result of Title 42.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court upheld Title 42’s use, but ruled that it should avoid sending asylum seekers where they could face persecution or harm.

Access to lawyers

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, said the short timeframe for the new asylum rule means that it will be more difficult for people to find a lawyer, which is crucial for proving complicated asylum cases.

“This will completely revamp the process that asylum seekers have gone through for the last couple of decades,” Reichlin-Melnick said.

“The asylum officer would be able to give you asylum right then and there, basically meaning that people who have strong or easy cases where it’s clear that they deserve asylum would never have to go to court,” he told Al Jazeera.

“If the asylum officer, however, determines that the person shouldn’t be granted asylum, they will then automatically be sent to immigration court like before,” he said.

Other immigration advocates also criticised the new rule, saying the focus on speed threatens accurate asylum decisions. “The new interim rule risks sacrificing accurate decision-making to its narrative of speed,” Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, said in a statement.

“Imposing unrealistic deadlines will lead to mistaken decisions, additional adjudication to correct those mistakes and the improper return to persecution of people who qualify for asylum,” she said.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said the new rule, which will take effect in 60 days and is open for public comments and modifications, will not apply to unaccompanied children. It will also be implemented in phases, starting with a limited number of individuals.

Record arrivals

Record numbers of people have arrived at the US-Mexico border in search of protection since last year, with most fleeing poverty and gang violence in the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries of Central America: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

But most have been turned away under Title 42. For example, between the start of 2021 and February 26 of this year, the US expelled more than 20,000 Haitians, including children, under the policy, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Haiti has been reeling from worsening political and economic crises since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise last July. The country is currently suffering from a political deadlock over when and how to hold elections, and armed gangs – which have strengthened their grip on much of the country – have been kidnapping people for ransom.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Thursday that most people sent back to Haiti under Title 42 had escaped the crisis-stricken island years before, and had been living in Brazil or Chile. The report found that among 383 returnees, 69 percent said they did not feel safe in Haiti and 84 percent wanted to leave the country again.

Haitians gathered under Bridge
More than 15,000 Haitians camped under a bridge in Texas in September of last year before most were deported without a chance to apply for asylum [File: Julio Cortez/AP Photo]

Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an organisation that assists Haitian migrants, told Al Jazeera that 130 people – including 30 children – were expelled to Haiti aboard a US deportation flight on Friday. She blamed deep-rooted “anti-Blackness” for what she said was a clear double standard in the treatment of asylum seekers.

“Why is it that we respond to the humanity of Ukrainians differently than other people, those who are Black and brown?” Jozef asked. “Why is it that the response to Haitians coming to us in the middle of a crisis in Haiti was to detain, expel and abuse them – and at the same time when it comes to people from Europe, we welcome them?”

Last week, border agents allowed dozens of Ukrainians to come into the US through the southern border, exempting them from Title 42 amid Russia’s ongoing assault of Ukraine. Rights groups welcomed the move, but denounced what they said was a double standard.

US media outlets have reported that the Biden administration is considering revoking Title 42 at the border starting on April 1, a move that would potentially result in a surge in people trying to enter the US.

The move is likely to draw the ire of Republican leaders who have seized on the issue of migration to attack Biden and accuse him of endangering the security of the US. On Thursday, The Hill reported that Republican Senator Rick Scott wrote a letter to DHS asking how it would deal with an influx of arrivals if Title 42 were to be lifted.





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N Korean leader sends in military to help tackle COVID outbreak | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Kim Jong Un orders the military to stabilise the supply of medicines in Pyongyang amid the outbreak of COVID-19, KCNA reports.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the military to stabilise the supply of medicines in Pyongyang days after announcing a lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korea acknowledged for the first time last week that it is battling an “explosive” COVID-19 outbreak, with experts raising concerns that the virus could devastate a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine programme.

The country reported 392,920 more people with fever symptoms, with eight new deaths, the state news agency said.

It did not report how many of those suspected cases had tested positive for COVID-19. North Korea has no COVID vaccines, antiviral treatment drugs or mass-testing capacity.

Kim Jong Un’s administration has insisted the country was coronavirus-free until a few days ago.

State media says 50 people have now died – and more than a million workers have been mobilised to stop the spread.

At the emergency politburo meeting, held on Sunday, Kim criticised the “irresponsible” work attitude and organising and executing ability of the Cabinet and the public health sector, KCNA reported.

“Officials of the Cabinet and public health sector in charge of the supply have not rolled up their sleeves, not properly recognizing the present crisis but only talking about the spirit of devotedly serving the people,” KCNA said Kim had told officials.

The government had ordered the distribution of its national medicine reserves but Kim said the drugs procured by the state are not reaching people in a timely and accurate manner through pharmacies, the report said.

‘Careless’

Kim ordered that the “powerful forces” of the army’s medical corps be deployed to “immediately stabilise the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City.”

KCNA also reported that Kim visited pharmacies located near the Taedong River in Pyongyang to find out about the supply and sales of drugs.

Kim said pharmacies are not well-equipped to perform their functions smoothly, there are no adequate drug storage areas other than the showcases, and the salespeople were not equipped with proper sanitary clothing.

North Korea has said that a “large proportion” of the deaths so far have been due to people “careless in taking drugs due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of stealth Omicron variant virus infection disease and its correct treatment method.”

While North Korea has maintained a rigid coronavirus blockade since the pandemic’s start, experts have said that Omicron outbreaks in the region meant it was only a matter of time before COVID spread to the country.



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Deadly shooting at a church in California, police say | Gun Violence News

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At least one killed and 4 others critically wounded in a shooting in southern California, a day after a white gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York state.

At least one person has been killed and four others critically injured after multiple shots were fired at a church in southern California, authorities have said, just a day after a white gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in New York state’s Buffalo city.

The shooting happened at Geneva Presbyterian Church located in the town of Laguna Woods, 70 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Los Angeles, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter on Sunday.

“Multiple victims have been shot,” said the Sheriff’s department, adding that deputies detained one person and recovered a weapon.

The Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter that its firefighters and paramedics were “on scene and treating and transporting multiple patients.”

Pictures posted on social media appeared to show emergency vehicles lined up outside a church.

“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” tweeted Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter, who represents Orange County in Washington.

“This should not be our new normal.”

More soon.



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Turkey sets demands, not opposed to Finland, Sweden NATO bid | NATO News

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NATO expects the Nordic countries’ membership bid will not be hindered by Ankara, whose concerns will be addressed.

NATO and the United States say they are confident Turkey will not impede the membership of Finland and Sweden in the Western military alliance, despite Ankara expressing reservations.

Turkey laid out demands on Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, saying it wanted the two Nordic countries to end support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory, and to lift the ban on sales of some arms to Turkey.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his talks with Swedish and Finnish counterparts in Berlin had been helpful.

The two countries had made suggestions to respond to Ankara’s concerns, which Turkey would consider.

Cavusoglu added that he had provided proof that “terrorists” were present on their territory.

He singled out Sweden in particular, saying the Kurdish militant group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), banned as “terrorist” by the US and European Union, had held meetings in Stockholm over the weekend.

Nevertheless, he said, Turkey did not oppose the alliance’s policy of being open to all European nations that wish to apply.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was confident “that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to go into details after closed-door conversations on the issue in Berlin, but echoed Stoltenberg’s position.

“I’m very confident that we will reach consensus on that,” Blinken told reporters, adding that NATO was “a place for dialogue”.

Finland, Sweden announced intention to join NATO

Finland and Sweden on Sunday took firm steps to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, breaking away from a tradition of non-alignment and neutrality.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto confirmed that his country would apply to join, while Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats announced an official policy change that would pave the way for their country to apply within days.

“Today the Swedish Social Democratic Party took a historic decision to say yes to apply for a membership in the NATO defence alliance,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde tweeted.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has deteriorated the security situation for Sweden and Europe as a whole.”

Any decision on NATO enlargement requires approval by all 30 allies and their parliaments.

Ankara, a NATO member for 70 years, is under immense pressure to yield to the accession of Finland and Sweden, which would hugely strengthen the alliance in the Baltic Sea.

If Turkey’s objections are overcome, approval could come in just a matter of weeks, although ratification by allied parliaments could take up to a year, diplomats and officials have said.

Moscow has responded to the prospect of the Nordic states joining NATO by threatening retaliation, including unspecified “military-technical measures”.

Finland’s Niinisto, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, said their conversation was measured and did not contain any threats.

“[Putin] confirmed that he thinks it’s a mistake. We are not threatening you. Altogether, the discussion was very, could I say, calm and cool,” Niinisto said in an interview with CNN.





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