Opinion: Restore asylum and build a better world


Published: 01-17-2023 12:20 PM

Maggie Fogarty is the NH Program Director for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Grace Kindeke is the Program Coordinator for AFSC’s NH Program and winner of this year’s Martin Luther King award.

In the weeks before the holidays, as many in New Hampshire were making plans to celebrate the end of the year and spend time with loved ones, two of New Hampshire’s most prominent citizens were in Washington D.C. voting to put those seeking asylum in danger.

The Senate was voting on a budget proposal, trying to avert a government shutdown before the holidays. An amendment was put forward that would extend Title 42, the Trump-era order that used the COVID-19 pandemic to subvert international law and deny vulnerable people the right to seek asylum in the United States. Sens. Shaheen and Hassan both voted for it. Despite their votes, we are relieved that the measure failed to pass.

For the past three years, Title 42 has blocked hundreds of thousands of (mostly Black and Brown) migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. Title 42 is not part of immigration law; it was thinly justified as a public health measure in response to the pandemic, even though medical professionals, public health experts, the CDC itself and the 5th Circuit Court have repeatedly stated it does not have actual public health benefits.

Though this amendment was ultimately defeated, Hassan and Shaheen are part of a larger trend in both parties to prioritize a cruel, expensive, and myopic approach to people coming to the United States. In early January 2023, two years into his term, President Biden traveled to the border and further threatened the rights and lives of asylum seekers and other migrants by expanding the categories of migrants who are subject to Title 42, imposing numerous additional barriers, and increasing the discretionary powers of border patrol agencies despite their documented abuse of migrants, misuse of public funds, and lack of transparency.

This is terrible news for people who are stranded in cold weather and dangerous conditions on the other side of the U.S.- Mexico border. It is also terrible news for the people of New Hampshire. We at AFSC have seen an alarming uptick in the number of immigrants being detained at the Strafford County jail (New Hampshire’s immigrant detention center).

Members of our community spent the holidays without family members because they lost loved ones to COVID-19, addiction, lack of health care, or lack of housing. Others spent the holiday without family because their loved ones are stuck on the other side of the border. Instead of listening and responding to these needs, our senators voted for a budget that contained billions of dollars for immigration enforcement agencies but eliminated protections for young immigrants and cut funding for essential services including much-needed resources for a truly humane and orderly immigration process.

Thousands of New Hampshire people are without homes. Our schools are underfunded, and our people are funneled into prisons, jails, and detention centers rather than getting the support and opportunities they need to thrive. Militarizing our borders and turning away those seeking safety or a better life hurts everyone. Instead, we need to welcome migrants and invest in the supportive services all of us need to thrive.

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New Hampshire already has a strong network to welcome and care for asylum seekers. We know how to welcome people in ways that reflect our values. By doing so we demonstrate our integrity as a nation, as well as our respect and compassion for all who come to our shores seeking safety, hope, and a new life.

The U.S. government knows how to do this too, when they want to. The humanitarian crisis we are witnessing now is due to decades of inaction and systemic disinvestment by our Congressional leaders. Since the war in Ukraine began, more than 82,000 Ukrainians have been able to come to the United States and have been processed fairly and humanely. We need to extend the same welcome to those fleeing violence from Haiti, Central and South America, and Africa.

The stark racism of U.S. immigration policies is undeniable. As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are called to reflect on the words of Dr. King, who in 1967 said, “Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the [children] of God...[who] wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full [people], and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message – of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause…”

Dr. King’s words ring as true today as they did in 1967. Will we continue to turn our backs on the people of the world, on the harms caused by war and economic violence by our own governments, and on the people who have traveled long and dangerous routes simply to seek a better life? Or will we build on Dr. King’s vision to stand strong together to demand better from our leaders and work to create that new world?