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PHR Welcomes Judicial Decision to End Title 42, Warns of New Measures That Would Restrict Access to Asylum

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s decision to vacate Title 42, an order that was used to expel asylum seekers more than 2.4 million times with no due process into dangerous conditions in Mexico.  

Title 42 – invoked in March 2020 by the Trump administration purportedly to defend against the spread of COVID-19 – has been denounced by hundreds of medical and public health experts as not grounded in evidence, science, or human rights. Rather than protect public health, Title 42 weaponized U.S. health law to degrade the international right to seek asylum.  

In his decision, Sullivan wrote that Title 42 was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated federal regulatory law. U.S. government officials knew that they would expel migrants to places with a “high probability” of “persecution, torture, violent assaults, or rape,” he wrote. 

“For the past two and a half years, countless children, families, and adults from around the world who fled persecution have been blocked from exercising their right to seek asylum. With yesterday’s district court decision, inhumane border expulsions under the Title 42 order may finally end,” said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at PHR and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan. 

“It is essential now that Congress and the White House do not replace Title 42 with new punitive, deterrence-based, rights-abusing immigration policies. At this very moment, Congress is considering legislation that would effectively reinstate and expand Title 42-like mass expulsions that provide no recourse to present asylum claims. Such efforts that defy international and national laws must be blocked. Instead, the United States asylum system should be grounded in humane, rights-based policies and practice,” said Heisler.  

PHR’s most recent research on the expulsion policy documented its devastating consequences, 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. A series of letters to the Trump and Biden administrations sent by medical and public health experts at top universities and nonprofit organizations also underscored the dangers of Title 42.  

“While the administration has requested five weeks to ‘prepare for an orderly transition to new policies at the border,’ the U.S. government must not use the end of Title 42 to expand the use of immigration detention and other right-abusive policies. Community-based alternatives to detention have proven far safer and more effective,” said Heisler. 

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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