NEW YORK – In response to this afternoon’s announcement by United States President Joe Biden of new “border security” measures along the southern border, which would expand expedited removals under Title 42, the following statement is attributable to Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan:
“President Biden’s announcement today to continue and indeed expand the wide-ranging policy of expelling asylum seekers without allowing them to present their claims for asylum under the Title 42 public health order is met with profound disappointment from Physicians for Human Rights and the immigration and human rights community at large. To let Title 42 not only persist, but expand expulsions under the scientifically baseless policy is unconscionable and presents a clear and present threat to the health and human rights of countless asylum seekers.
“Title 42 policy is one of the most inhumane, racist and xenophobic immigration policies ever implemented at the U.S. southern border. PHR stood firmly against the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy before the institution of Title 42 during the pandemic. PHR is now firmly against this new policy that continues to use public health justifications under Title 42 to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico in often-dangerous conditions.
“The proposal makes clear the administration’s plans to widely enforce expulsions of the vast majority of asylum seekers who present themselves at the U.S. border seeking safe haven from violence and persecution. Even more troubling, the proposed system would bar asylum seekers from consideration of future exemption if they initially fail to fill out the right paperwork, even when presenting themselves lawfully at a port of entry. These individuals are often being forced to urgently flee violence or threats to their lives and rush to a U.S. port to seek protection–it is amoral that they would be barred from safety for failing to fully complete forms they may not have easy access to while escaping persecution.
“Denying safe haven for those seeking asylum is cruel and runs counter to international conventions on the treatment of asylum seekers. PHR has documented countless instances of debilitating physical and psychological health impacts from this politically motivated policy on asylum-seeking children and adults, including high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. PHR clinicians have also witnessed the dangerous health conditions among asylum seekers expelled to Mexico, including pregnancy at high risk for eclampsia with signs of premature labor, congestive heart failure and seizure disorders.
“PHR continues its calls on the Biden administration to press for an end to Title 42 through the courts, and in practice along the U.S. border, and to revise any new border policies to allow for safe and orderly processing of asylum seekers within the protection of the United States. It is equally imperative for Congress to pass comprehensive reforms aimed at repairing the deeply broken immigration and asylum system in the United States to bring U.S. policy in line with international standards.
“In the Supreme Court’s most recent decision to delay a trial court order to vacate Title 42, Justice Neil Gorsuch called out the false pretenses of extending Title 42 in his dissent, saying, ‘the current border crisis is not a COVID crisis. Courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency.’
“For the past three years, medical and public health experts have repeatedly outlined the utter absence of epidemiological evidence and public health justification for Title 42 expulsions. We urge the Biden administration to understand the severity of its actions and enact new policies that ensure a trauma-informed and rights-respecting approach to border management and asylum processing.”
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.