Two Years of Suffering: Biden Administration Continues Use of Discredited Title 42 Order to Flout Refugee Law
For two years, the U.S. government has illegally blocked and expelled people seeking refuge at the southern U.S. border despite U.S. laws and treaties created to protect them. Since March 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has used orders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), purportedly issued under Title 42 of U.S. law, to prevent asylum seekers from requesting U.S. asylum and returning thousands to persecution, torture, and other horrific violence.
For two years, the U.S. government has illegally blocked and expelled people seeking refuge at the southern U.S. border despite U.S. laws and treaties created to protect them. Since March 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has used orders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), purportedly issued under Title 42 of U.S. law, to prevent asylum seekers from requesting U.S. asylum and returning thousands to persecution, torture, and other horrific violence. In March 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that the use of Title 42 to expel people to places where they would face persecution or torture is likely illegal, violating U.S. refugee laws and international treaty obligations.
The grave human rights abuses faced by people turned away under Title 42 continue to mount every day that U.S. officials allow this policy’s use to evade refugee law. Human Rights First has now tracked at least 9,886 kidnappings, torture, rape, and other violent attacks on people blocked in or expelled to Mexico due to the Title 42 policy under the Biden administration – a new record of suffering.
Flouting refugee protection laws as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic is not and never was justified as a public health measure. Initially issued by the CDC under orders from senior Trump administration officials and despite objections by CDC experts, the Biden administration has continued the policy for migration policy and/or political reasons, according to various reports. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky re-issued a new version of the Title 42 order in August 2021, and has subsequently repeatedly extended it. The CDC must review whether to continue, modify, or end the Title 42 order by March 30, 2022.
Epidemiologists and medical experts have exhaustively established that Title 42 does not protect public health, and in fact exacerbates the spread of COVID-19. 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 CDC partially terminated the Title 42 order as to unaccompanied children following a federal court ruling that would have compelled the resumption of expulsions of unaccompanied children. In a notice explaining the decision, the CDC cited declining COVID-19 cases nationwide, including in communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, increased vaccination rates in the United States and countries of origin, and widespread availability of COVID-19 testing and other mitigation measures at facilities receiving migrants. Despite these factors applying equally to all people seeking refuge in the United States, the CDC has so far disingenuously maintained the Title 42 order to expel families and adults.
At this shameful second anniversary of the Title 42 policy, the Biden administration continues to illegally turn away asylum seekers without access to the U.S. asylum system. It is carrying out dangerous expulsions to countries refugees have fled, including: El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and Mexico, as well as expelling some Venezuelans to Colombia. The Title 42 policy discriminatorily targets Haitian and other Black asylum seekers, spurs disorder at the border, undermines security, and separates families. While some Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion have been allowed to cross into the United States at southern border ports of entry, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) continues to cite Title 42 to illegally block others and to discriminatorily turn away many asylum seekers of other nationalities and races who have often been waiting for months or years in danger in Mexico to seek U.S. asylum protection.
The Biden administration must immediately end this disastrous policy and restart the asylum processes required under U.S. law along the border, including at ports of entry, as Human Rights First has recommended. In recent weeks, dozens of members of Congress have publicly called for an end to the Title 42 policy with Senate leadership condemning the Biden administration’s decision to continuing sending asylum seekers “back to persecution and torture” as “wrong.” The United States has the capacity to welcome people seeking refuge. Many faith- and community-based organizations along the border and throughout the United States are standing by ready to assist the families, adults, and children seeking refuge.
This factsheet updates prior research on the Title 42 policy by Human Rights First in 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.