Marking Two Years of Illegal, Inhumane Title 42 Expulsions: Nearly 10,000 Violent Attacks on Asylum Seekers and Migrants

WASHINGTON D.C.  – Human Rights First today released new findings on the grave and rising human rights abuses inflicted by the Title 42 policy under the Biden administration. As the Trump-era Title 42 policy approaches its second anniversary on March 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must review by the end of this month its Title 42 order that has been used to evade refugee law.

Since January 2021, Human Rights First has tracked reports of attacks against the families, adults, and children blocked by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from requesting U.S. asylum as a result of the Biden administration’s decision to continue the illegal Title 42 policy. As of March 15, 2022, Human Rights First has identified at least 9,886 reports of kidnapping, torture, rape, and other violent attacks on people blocked in or expelled to Mexico due to the Title 42 policy during the Biden administration. The count of attacks includes incidents reported through an ongoing electronic survey conducted by the organization Al Otro Lado, interviews with asylum seekers and attorneys, and review of media reports.

The attacks documented in the new Human Rights First factsheet, “Two Years of Suffering: Biden Administration Continues Use of Discredited Title 42 Order to Flout Refugee Protection,” include a Nicaraguan family of six kidnapped in Reynosa, an LGBTQ asylum seeker attacked by Mexican police in Ciudad Acuña who threatened to rape “the lesbian out of” her and a friend, and a Haitian woman assaulted by police in Matamoros who beat her husband and threatened to kill her and her five-year-old daughter.

“The grave human rights abuses faced by people turned away under Title 42 continue to mount every day that the Biden administration evades refugee law by using this illegal and inhumane policy,” said Kennji Kizuka, associate director for refugee protection research at Human Rights First. “The reports we have tracked of kidnappings, rape, torture, and other horrific attacks against people turned away from U.S. asylum due to Title 42 represent just a tiny fraction of the true toll of this nightmarish policy. President Biden cannot allow this travesty to continue.”

Other findings in the factsheet include:

  • Cartels in Mexico have adapted their criminal enterprises to profit from kidnapping expelled asylum seekers, targeting them on the basis of their race, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation, as well as those perceived to have U.S. family members to extort.
  • Mexican authorities, including police, national guard, and immigration officials, regularly fail to prevent attacks against asylum seekers and are often complicit in this violence.
  • The Title 42 policy continues to have a disparate racial impact on Black asylum seekers and migrants, who face widespread anti-Black violence and discrimination in Mexico. Since January 2021, DHS has removed more than 20,000 Haitians on at least 208 expulsion and deportation flights to Haiti.
  • The Biden administration’s use of the Title 42 policy is spurring disorder at the border. Expulsions drive repeat crossings and inflate the total number of border encounters.
  • Trapped by Title 42 in Mexico, asylum seekers face inherently dangerous and horrendous conditions without safe housing, adequate medical care, or sufficient food. Approximately 2,000 people are waiting in a makeshift tent encampment in Reynosa, Mexico—many for more than six months—for the opportunity to request U.S. protection.
  • Citing Title 42, the Biden administration continues to block and expel asylum seekers, including Ukrainians, to the highly dangerous city of Nuevo Laredo, where the U.S. Department of State has warned that “violent crime, such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault, is common.”

CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Welensky, is set to review whether to renew, modify, or terminate the current Title 42 order by March 30, 2022. Epidemiologists and medical experts have exhaustively established that the Title 42 policy does not protect public health. The claimed public health justification for the Title 42 order has become even more transparently unjustified as the administration lifts other pandemic-related international travel restrictions and with mask mandates lifted in all 50 U.S. states.

In March 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that the Title 42 policy is likely illegal and that the U.S. government “cannot expel [asylum seekers] to places where they will be persecuted or tortured”. In the last two weeks, dozens of members of Congress have called for an end to the Title 42 policy, with Senate leadership condemning the Biden administration’s decision to continue sending asylum seekers “back to persecution and torture” as “wrong.”

Since the U.S. government began using Title 42, Human Rights First has published a series of reports documenting the severe human rights violations caused by the policy under both the Trump and Biden administrations: February 2022, January 2022, December 2021, November 2021 (with Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project), October 2021, August 2021, July 2021 (with Hope Border Institute), June 2021, May 2021 (with RAICES and Interfaith Welcome Coalition), April 2021 (with Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance), December 2020, and May 2020. Human Rights First deeply appreciates the work of Al Otro Lado to conduct their ongoing survey of asylum seekers and of the attorneys and other legal monitorswho have reported incidents of attacks against asylum seekers.

Human Rights First’s recommendations on ending the disastrous Title 42 policy and restarting the asylum processes required under U.S. law and treaty obligations along the border, including at ports of entry, can be found here.


Published on March 17, 2022


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