By Raymond P. Diamond

On June 4, the administration of President Joe Biden issued an executive order severely restricting U.S. asylum claims, and on June 10, the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center (IWC) held a press conference responding to the policy shift. 

Faisal Khan, who became IWC Executive Director in April, opened the press conference with a moment of silence for those people seeking refuge who have tried to cross into the U.S. but have been unable to make their way to safety. He went on to assert that Biden’s border policy executive order fails to meet our country’s humanitarian and moral obligations.

Khan noted that those arriving at our borders seeking refuge are frequently escaping violence, persecution, and the threat of human rights violations from inside their home countries, which are life-threatening situations. “Under U.S. immigration law, any non-citizen on U.S. soil must be granted due process to seek asylum if they fear for their lives or freedom,” he said. 

He pointed out a striking disconnect between our country’s treatment of migrants fleeing dangerous circumstances in certain regions of the world compared to others: “[in the same way that] we treat Ukrainians with fair treatment and love and compassion, kindness, it is imperative and our fundamental obligation to treat migrants coming from central South America, Africa, Middle East or Asia [in the same ways].”

The executive order will have an unacceptable impact on migrants who are people of color, said Khan, pointing out that the order is explicitly directed at the southern border, which is  where most asylum seekers of color enter the U.S. 

The Biden administration has stated a commitment to the human rights and humane treatment of migrants and has tried to pass legislation improving immigration policy, and reduce immigration from Central America with its “Root Causes” strategy. However, bipartisan immigration bills have failed to pass Congress this year.

“[Americans must] demand better policies that protect the rights and dignity of all individuals, provide humane treatment, and offer a fair chance for those fleeing unimaginable hardship to seek asylum,” Khan said. 

Belinda Vemba, IWC’s Advocacy Coordinator, pointed out that Trump’s 2019 policies of travel bans and restrictions are mirrored in the current executive order, which  “directly affects our [Maine] families, our friends, and our community members. … We urge you, President Biden, to reverse the executive order and put humanity at the center of this policy … we are all humans at the end of the day, and it’s up to you and me to make the change.” 

Khan underlined Vemba’s statement, pointing out that the new asylum policy “is affecting the communities that we work with … as well as other affiliates and coalitions of partners and stakeholders in Portland and beyond.”

Faisal Khan, Executive Director of IWC