In response to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decision to extend the Title 42 border expulsion order, the following statement is attributable to Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and a professor of internal medicine and of public health at the University of Michigan:
“Title 42 expulsions are indefensible from a public health perspective. There continues to be no sound epidemiological justification for the Biden administration to single out asylum seekers for expulsion while other groups of people can enter the United States if they abide by COVID-19 safety protocols.
“This week, we at PHR published an investigation finding that the border expulsion order is resulting in family separations and severe mental health impacts for asylum seekers. We know what works to curb COVID-19: vaccines, masking, and social distancing. A xenophobic and selective ban on individuals and families fleeing harm only undermines the CDC’s credibility at this pivotal juncture in the pandemic.
“Placing people in congregate detention facilities is also not the answer, as that could indeed increase the risk of COVID-19 spread and human rights abuses. Instead, arriving adults and families can be safely released to pursue their asylum cases and shelter with their family members in the United States – a proven and effective approach.
“The Biden administration is using spurious public health arguments to justify a shambolic policy that is more about playing politics than saving lives.”
On July 28, PHR published an investigation documenting the dire health and human rights impacts of the Title 42 border expulsion order, under which the United States government has expelled children and adults seeking refuge at the U.S. border nearly one million times since March 2020.
“Neither Safety nor Health: How Title 42 Expulsions Harm Health and Violate Rights” exposes some of the consequences of the expulsion order, including family separations, abusive actions by U.S. and Mexican government officials, and acute medical and psychological impacts on asylum-seeking children and adults. Based on in-depth interviews conducted in Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana, Mexico in May 2021 with 28 expelled asylum seekers and six health professionals who provide medical care to migrants, the report underscores the severe consequences of the Title 42 ban and the urgency for the Biden administration and the CDC to revoke the order rather than to extend it, as they have done this week.
A letter from leading public health experts, including Dr. Heisler, to the Biden administration in July 2021 reiterated that the latest scientific knowledge regarding transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 did not support expulsion as a public health measure, and that the order undermined trust in the CDC itself as a scientific body. Since the Title 42 ban was enacted by the Trump administration in March 2020, PHR experts have consistently condemned the expulsion order and pointed out its lack of a public health rationale.
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.