Today the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced its plans to rescind the Title 42 order, which the U.S. government has used to expel asylum seekers and other migrants almost two million times since its enactment in March 2020. While welcoming the long-delayed announcement, medical experts and human rights advocates from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) are calling on the Biden administration to coordinate with public health experts and humanitarian organizations to ensure safe, orderly, and humane processing at the border for all, without discrimination.
The following statement is attributable to Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at PHR and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan:
“Finally, we can look forward to the end of the Title 42 policy, one of the most inhumane immigration policies ever implemented at the U.S. southern border. While PHR welcomes the CDC’s plans to rescind this harmful order, it’s critical that the U.S. government acknowledge its misuse of public health to deny the right to seek asylum for more than two years, and to ensure that racist and xenophobic narratives cannot be wielded again to end asylum at the border, in contravention of U.S. and international law.
“Since March 2020, PHR has joined countless public health experts in calling for an end to the Title 42 border expulsion order: there is simply no epidemiological evidence to justify banning only asylum seekers from the United States while keeping the borders open to other travelers. In reality, the scientifically baseless and politically motivated order has severely harmed the health and human rights of children, families, and single adults by exposing them to violence, separating families, and inflicting acute medical and psychological impacts on asylum-seeking children and adults, including high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.
“Over the last two years, PHR has repeatedly called on the CDC, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Biden administration to recommend an immediate halt of Title 42 expulsions. PHR clinicians conducted remote medical and psychological evaluations of people with serious health conditions expelled under Title 42 or subjected to the “Remain in Mexico” policy, and sent a team of researchers to Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez to document the health and human rights consequences of the Title 42 order. PHR clinicians have witnessed the severe health conditions among asylum seekers expelled to Mexico, including 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.
“Just as PHR has advocated for Title 42’s repeal, we are prepared to put equal pressure on the Biden administration and the CDC to follow through on their stated plans to end the order. The government should undertake an interagency approach, in full coordination with public health authorities and humanitarian organizations, to ensure safe, humane, and orderly processing, using all the pandemic mitigation tools at our disposal, including masking, social distancing, testing, vaccination, and quarantine, to uphold U.S. asylum law.
“As the United States now begins its rollout of an additional round of COVID-19 booster shots and vaccine access remains robust, the hypocrisy of Title 42 expulsions is evident. As the Ukraine crisis has highlighted, people fleeing war and persecution deserve a fair and equitable chance to seek asylum in the United States – regardless of whether they are from Ukraine, Ethiopia, or El Salvador.
“As medical and public health experts, we affirm that there is not now, nor ever was, a public health justification for Title 42 expulsions. We are ready to advise and support the administration to undertake urgent actions, such as reuniting families, ending practices like metering and the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy that force asylum seekers into danger, and ending abusive immigration detention.
“The United States needs to ensure a trauma-informed and rights-respecting approach to border management and asylum processing moving forward.”
The following quote is attributable to Christopher Beyrer, MD, MPH, Desmond M. Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a PHR Advisory Council member:
“There was never a public health rationale for the misuse of Title 42 in denying the rights of asylum seekers. This was an abuse of public health powers as a cover for immigration policy goals and it is vitally important that the Biden administration ends this inhumane policy.”
Additional PHR resources on Title 42:
- Press release: “After Two Years of Health and Rights Abuses, it’s Past Time to End Title 42 Border Expulsions: PHR,” March 17, 2022
- Press release: “1,300+ Medical Professionals from 49 U.S. States and Territories Call on CDC to End ‘Junk Science’ Border Expulsion Policy,” October 28, 2021
- Press release: “PHR Condemns Biden Administration’s ‘Indefensible’ Extension of Title 42 Border Expulsion Order,” August 3, 2021
- Report: “Neither Safety nor Health: How Title 42 Expulsions Harm Health and Violate Rights,” July 28, 2021
- Press release: “U.S. Border Expulsion Policy Results in Family Separations, PTSD, Human Rights Violations: PHR Report,” July 28, 2021
- Open Letter: “Coalition Letter to the Biden Administration on Title 42 Border Expulsions,” June 20, 2021
- Fact Sheet: Title 42 Border Expulsions: How Biden and the CDC’s Misuse of Public Health Authority Expels Asylum Seekers to Danger,” May 20, 2021
- Webinar: “Title 42: The Misuse of Public Health to Restrict Asylum,” May 6, 2021
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.