The CDC’S Extension of the Title 42 Order: Misusing Public Health Authority
By: Diandra Coonghe, HRF Intern
Human Rights First Fall 2021 Communications Intern Diandra Coonghe is studying biological science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She prepared the following blog in response to the CDC’s recent decision to extend its Title 42 order.
Amidst news of the Biden Administration restarting the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will reportedly again be extending its much-criticized Title 42 order. The Title 42 order allows the Biden administration to block people seeking U.S. asylum at the border and expel them to danger in Mexico or the countries they fled.
While senior officials in the White House and the Department of Homeland Security have continually promised that the Title 42 order would eventually be withdrawn, these promises have yet to become reality, endangering men, women, and children seeking safety in the United States. Human Rights First has tracked at least 7,647 kidnappings, sexual assaults, and other violent attacks against people blocked at ports of entry or expelled to Mexico under Title 42 since President Biden took office.
The CDC continues to back its extension of the Title 42 order with the claim that allowing increased border crossings during a pandemic could endanger public health . However, these claims have been widely criticized and disproven by public health experts from some of the top medical centers in the country. Public health experts have repeatedly explained that asylum seekers can be safely processed using public health measures similar to those now in place for others entering the country. And while ports of entry continue to be closed to people seeking asylum, the U.S. has opened the border to tourists and other “non-essential” travelers.
Allowing tourists to enter the country while blocking people fleeing for their lives on supposed public health grounds is nonsensical. Epidemiologists and public health experts maintain that the United States can safely welcome people seeking refuge and protect the health of everyone by implementing sensible public health measures like social distancing, masking, and testing. The government’s continued claims that Title 42 “protects” public health foster racism, xenophobia, and a sense of distrust against those seeking safety in the United States. In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci himself has spoken out against the narrative that immigrants are driving the spread of COVID-19.
Time and time again, public health experts have requested that the government cease the implementation of the Title 42 policy. They have called on the government to instead use evidence-based public health regulations, beginning with transparent access to vaccines and routine testing measures. By implementing these public health regulations, asylum seekers and migrants would be able to get safely processed at the border without the Title 42 order.
Senior Director of Refugee Protection Eleanor Acer put it best when she responded to the news of Title 42’s extension: “The Biden administration is compounding the suffering inflicted on asylum seekers by choosing to continue its use of the Trump administration’s Title 42 policy, and to now wield it in tandem with its restart and expansion of the notorious Remain in Mexico policy. There is no public health basis for blocking people from seeking safety in the United States or for expelling them to danger in Mexico. The policy was specious under the Trump administration, and it is specious now.”
Specious is putting it lightly. Title 42 endangers the lives of people seeking protection, exposing them to danger in the countries they fled and in Mexico, where thousands have been kidnapped, extorted, and attacked. This is not what protecting public health looks like.
The irony is that the CDC, a scientifically-centered organization, continues to stand behind the Title 42 order, which is a policy based on politics and not on scientific study and research. As a student of the sciences myself, it is both deeply disheartening and downright disturbing to see the CDC used as a political tool by the current administration. At Human Rights First, we can continue to call on the Biden Administration to take the advice of public health experts, end Title 42, and implement measures based on evidence, rather than politically-inclined predispositions.