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After Two Years of Health and Rights Abuses, it’s Past Time to End Title 42 Border Expulsions: PHR 

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reiterates its call on the White House and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to immediately rescind the Title 42 order, through which the U.S. government has expelled asylum seekers and other migrants more than one million times over the past two years.  

On March 11, the CDC issued a document terminating the Title 42 order for unaccompanied children who arrive at the U.S. border. PHR, alongside scores of other health and human rights organizations, urges the Biden administration to rescind the Title 42 order in its entirety and implement safe, effective, and humane asylum policies. 

“The Title 42 expulsion order was never based on sound science, even during the early months of the pandemic. However, with vaccines and other effective public health strategies now widely available, the faulty rationale for keeping the Title 42 order in place is more than intellectually bankrupt, it is morally reprehensible,” said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at PHR and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan. “Time and time again since March 2020, leading medical experts have shown that there is no public health justification for Title 42. We know what works to protect people from COVID-19, including masks, testing, and vaccines – certainly not discriminatory expulsions of asylum seekers. Instead of protecting public health, the Title 42 order violates the right to seek asylum and fuels an unnecessary humanitarian crisis mere yards from the U.S. border. Two years into this cruel policy, it’s past time to end Title 42 expulsions.” 

In recent months, PHR clinicians have witnessed severe medical crises experienced by some asylum seekers who present at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as the lack of health systems capacity in northern Mexico to adequately provide the medical care needed. PHR clinicians have conducted remote evaluations for asylum seekers in Mexico with metastatic breast cancer, pregnancy at high risk for eclampsia with signs of premature labor, peptic and gastric ulcers at risk of perforation, repeated transient ischemic attacks and congestive heart failure, hypoxic brain injury, late-term pregnancy with severe anemia, and seizure disorders. Asylum seekers live in crowded tent camps with limited access to food, clean water, and sanitation, unable to access the lifesaving medical services they need and without any opportunity to apply for asylum. 

Since the Title 42 order was enacted in March 2020, PHR has called out the spurious justifications for itas well as the profound health and human rights tolls of the border expulsions. A series of letters to the Trump and Biden administrations from top medical and public health experts at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, PHR, Human Rights First, and other organizations have repeatedly explained how the Title 42 order does little to protect public health. These experts offered common sense, evidence-based, rights-respecting recommendations for the safe processing of people who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.   

A team of PHR researchers visited Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez last year to document the health and human rights consequences of the Title 42 order. The July 2021 PHR report exposed some of the consequences of the expulsion policy, including family separations, abusive actions by U.S. and Mexico government officials, and acute medical and psychological impacts on asylum-seeking children and adults, including high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression among people interviewed. Human Rights First has tracked more than 8,705 reports of kidnappings and other violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers blocked in and/or expelled to Mexico by the United States government since the Biden administration took office. 

With more than three million refugees fleeing violence in Ukraine and reports of Ukrainian asylum seekers arriving at the United States southern border, the crisis in Ukraine underscores the need for humane and equitable U.S. asylum policies. 

“The outpouring of compassion and solidarity for Ukrainian refugees is a critical reminder of our global responsibility to offer a safe haven for all those seeking refuge, without discrimination,” said Kathryn Hampton, MSt, MA, deputy director of the PHR Asylum Program. “Ukrainian refugees arriving at the U.S. southern border face the same inhumane policy that other asylum seekers have been facing for almost two years — summary expulsions with no chance to seek asylum under the Title 42 order. Thousands of Ukrainians are joining the thousands of Mexican, Haitian, Central American, and African asylum seekers who have also been waiting for the chance to seek refuge, but who have been turned away because of the Title 42 expulsion order. Families with small children, elderly people, people with serious medical conditions, and people with disabilities are sleeping on the ground outside U.S. ports of entry or in crowded tent encampments. Whether applied to a Honduran, a Cameroonian, or a Ukrainian, the Title 42 order is a profound injustice.”  

“Regardless of nationality, no one should be expelled to danger. The right to seek asylum is protected under U.S. and international law,” added Hampton. 

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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