After the Biden administration announced its toughest crackdown on border crossings to date, the U.S. bishops’ top voice on migration has charged that the proposed rule will further limit asylum for those most in need, and expose them to greater danger.

The proposed rule, announced Feb. 23 by the Homeland Security and Justice Departments, presumes that immigrants are ineligible for asylum if they enter the country unlawfully. It would allow for rapid deportation of any immigrants who fail to utilize a legal pathway to enter the U.S., or who don’t seek asylum or other protection in a country through which they traveled.

The proposed rule is open for public comment through March 27. It’s slated to go into effect when Title 42 – a controversial Trump-era measure allowing the immediate expulsion of immigrants that’s also been utilized by the Biden administration – is lifted in May. The policy is set to be in place for two years.

Bishop Mark Seitz, the USCCB Migration Chair, said that the nation’s bishops are “deeply troubled” by the proposal, “which perpetuates the misguided notion that heavy-handed enforcement measures are a viable solution to increased migration and forced displacement.”

“While recognizing our country’s right to maintain its borders, my brother bishops and I have consistently rejected policies that weaken asylum access for those most in need of relief and expose them to further danger.” Seitz said in a Feb. 23 statement. “Because that is likely the result of this proposal, we strongly oppose its implementation.”

The Biden administration argues that unlawful entries into the U.S. are expected to increase significantly when Title 42 is lifted to a level that would undermine the departments’ ability to enforce and administer U.S. immigration laws, including the asylum process.

In the proposed rule, the departments’ highlight that for days ending December 24, 2022, there were an average of 8,500 southwest border [SWB] encounters per day, with encounters exceeding 9,000 per day on 12 different occasions over that stretch. When Title 42 is lifted, the departments’ said their models and projections suggest encounters could rise to 11,000-13,000, daily. That would amount to more than 2.5 million border encounters in a year.

When Title 42 is lifted, the departments state, “the number of migrants seeking to cross the SWB without lawful authorization to do so is expected to increase significantly, unless other policy changes are made.”

Border agents encountered a record-high approximately 2.4 million undocumented immigrants in Fiscal Year 2022, which ran from Oct. 1, 2021 – Sept. 20, 2022. The total for FY 2023, October 1, 2022 – January 2023 is roughly 875,000, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

The proposed rule expands on new border measures the Biden Administration announced last month that expanded legal pathways for a set number of immigrants from Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba to enter the U.S. with the opportunity to stay for two years and receive work authorization.

It also expands the implementation of a mobile app migrants can use to notify border authorities of their plans to seek asylum in the U.S., and a time that they will arrive, in order to be processed into the country, where they can then make their claims for protection.

Like last month’s announcement, Seitz lamented that the advent of new, innovative, legal pathways comes at the expense of an immigrant’s general right to seek asylum in the U.S.

“We appreciate the Administration’s desire to expand lawful pathways to the United States, especially through increased refugee processing, but that should not come at the expense of vulnerable persons seeking protection at our border,” Seitz said. “Above all, the sanctity of human life remains paramount.”