Letter to President Biden and Vice President Harris on Two Years of Title 42
For nearly two years the U.S. government has ruthlessly blocked and expelled people seeking protection at the southern border without allowing them to apply for asylum, as U.S. and international law requires. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began expulsions under the Trump administration using orders by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - the first of which was issued on March 20, 2020.
Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris:
For nearly two years the U.S. government has ruthlessly blocked and expelled people seeking protection at the southern border without allowing them to apply for asylum, as U.S. and international law requires. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began expulsions under the Trump administration using orders by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – the first of which was issued on March 20, 2020. To our dismay the Biden-Harris administration has not only failed to end this illegal and unjustifiable policy but renewed, defended, and expanded it with illegal expulsions now being carried out to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and Mexico. In the wake of the recent court rulings, we call on your administration to immediately end the Title 42 policy, stop defending this illegal and inhumane policy in court, restore meaningful access to asylum at U.S. borders, and welcome with dignity the families and individuals seeking protection in the United States.
The litany of Title 42’s horrors is nearly too awful to enumerate. During your administration alone:
- at least 8,705 reports of kidnapping, rape, trafficking, torture, and other attacks on people blocked in or expelled to Mexico under Title 42 by your administration, including LGBTQ, Black, and Indigenous asylum seekers targeted by cartels and corrupt officials;
- refugees refouled to the countries where they had fled persecution and torture in violation of U.S. law and treaty obligations;
- at least 20,000 Haitian families and individuals, including asylum seekers, expelled or deported, to increasing danger in Haiti many without a chance to request asylum;
- thousands of children sent alone across the border to the United States by families expelled under Title 42 desperate to protect them from harm while stranded in Mexico; and
- more than 90,000 expulsions at the southern border without due process, on average, each month – more than twice the monthly average of expulsions carried out under President Trump.
This policy has never been about public health: your administration is using Title 42 to single out and block people requesting protection in the United States at the same time as it has lifted travel restrictions for other travelers. Senior CDC scientists objected to the Title 42 order when it was issued under the Trump administration. Leading epidemiologists and medical experts have repeatedly affirmed that the policy undermines public health and have published rational, science-based measures to safely process people seeking protection at the border. But your administration has chosen to ignore these recommendations. Instead, DHS continues to turn away people seeking life-saving asylum protection along the border, including at ports of entry, while vaccinated tourists and shoppers can now enter the United States through these same ports.
The continued use of Title 42 is spurring disorder and undermining security at the border. Rapid expulsions without legal process have resulted in massive increases in repeat border crossings, and the failure to comply with asylum law at ports of entry has pushed asylum seekers to undertake increasingly deadly border crossings. Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan and other people seeking asylum, who largely sought asylum at ports of entry, are now overwhelmingly crossing away from official crossing points.
The Title 42 policy is a stain on the conscience of the United States. Former and current government officials, members of Congress, federal courts, and UNHCR have sounded the same urgent alarm: the Title 42 policy violates domestic law and international treaty obligations to protect refugees from forced return to persecution and torture. The continued use of the Title 42 policy indelibly marks your administration as complicit in human rights abuses on a massive scale.
The United States encourages other countries to uphold refugee law and welcome people fleeing across borders in search of protection, including those now forced to flee Ukraine. We urge your administration to lead by example and uphold refugee law at U.S. borders.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Xavier Becerra, Department of Health and Human Services
Secretary Antony Blinken, Department of State
Ambassador Susan Rice, Domestic Policy Council
Advisor Jake Sullivan, National Security Council