Human Rights First Welcomes Court Order Blocking Illegal Expulsions of Asylum-Seeking Families
NEW YORK – Human Rights First today welcomed a federal court order blocking the Biden administration from expelling families to danger under the Title 42 policy, which uses public health as a pretext to evade U.S. refugee laws. The court found that the government likely does not have authority under U.S. law to carry out these expulsions; however, its preliminary injunction of the policy as to families will not go into effect for 14 days. Human Rights First urges the Biden administration to accept the court’s ruling and to take steps to immediately uphold U.S. refugee law and restart asylum at the U.S. – Mexico border, including at ports of entry, for all people seeking safety in the United States – families, children and adults.
“In the wake of this decision, the Biden administration must choose to uphold the refugee laws enacted by Congress rather than permanently stain the president’s legacy by continuing to perpetuate and escalate this illegal and inhumane Trump policy,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First. “The Biden administration must restart asylum processing, including at ports of entry, stop sending families and adults to suffer terrible violence, and permanently end this horrific policy designed by the Trump administration to punish refugees for seeking safety in the United States.”
The Biden administration is using the expulsion policy to return many asylum seekers to danger in Mexico as well as directly to the countries they fled. Since President Bident took office, Human Rights First has tracked at least 6,356 public and media reports of violent attacks—including rape, kidnapping and assault—against people blocked from requesting asylum protection at the U.S.-Mexico border and/or expelled to Mexico. In its ruling, the court found that asylum seekers face “real threats of violence and persecution if they [are] to be removed from the United States,” citing a declaration submitted in the case by Julia Neusner, a Human Rights First legal fellow who has conducted extensive research on the impact of the Title 42 policy.
In September 2021, leading epidemiologists and public health experts, including former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts, issued a public letter again urging the Biden administration to end the expulsion policy, detailing the scientific flaws in the Title 42 order the CDC reissued in August 2021 and that the Biden administration is using to justify continued expulsions. The experts called on the administration to withdraw the order and to adopt measures based on sound science and public health practice that comply with U.S. law and treaty obligations to asylum seekers. The next bimonthly review of the CDC order by the agency is set to occur on or before October 2, 2021.
During the past two weeks, the administration has flown more than 6,000 Guatemalan migrants and asylum seekers directly to the danger they had fled in Guatemala without access to the U.S. asylum system. Just yesterday, the Biden administration expelled dozens of Haitian families and adults to danger in Haiti under Title 42, despite ongoing turmoil following the assassination of the country’s president in July and a major earthquake in August. The U.N. Refugee Agency and other international bodies have repeatedly condemned the use of Title 42 to return refugees to danger in violation of international law and urged the United States to restore access to asylum.
Single adults and asylum seekers traveling with family members who do not meet the government’s definition of a “family unit,” likely including many LGBTQI and Black asylum seekers, are not immediately covered by the decision. But the court’s order makes clear that all expulsions are likely unlawful whether of adults, families or unaccompanied children. The Biden administration should process all individuals to safety in the United States, as the exclusive application of Title 42 to adults who do not fall under the “family unit” criteria would be discriminatory in violation of U.S. laws and treaties.
Since the inception of the Title 42 policy in March 2020, Human Rights First has published a series of reports documenting the severe human rights violations caused by the expulsions policy under both the Trump and Biden administrations: May 2020, December 2020, April 2021 (with Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance), May 2021 (with RAICES and Interfaith Welcome Coalition), June 2021, July 2021 (with Hope Border Institute), and August 2021. Human Rights First’s most recent report, “Human Rights Travesty: Biden Administration Embrace of Trump Asylum Expulsion Policy Endangers Lives, Wreaks Havoc,” details how the Title 42 expulsion policy inflicts immense harm – stranding asylum seekers in grave danger where they are targets of brutal kidnappings and attacks, turning away Black and LGBTQ asylum seekers to suffer bias-motivated violence, separating families, and endangering public health.
Human Rights First has also represented families and individuals subjected to Title 42 who were brutally attacked while stranded in Mexico as a result of the policy. In 2021, 62 percent of the asylum seekers whom Human Rights First assisted in seeking one of the very limited, temporary humanitarian exemptions to Title 42 through the Huisha-Huisha litigation, had been kidnapped in Mexico (43 of 69) and nearly 19 percent had been sexually assaulted there (13 of 69).