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Physicians for Human Rights to DOJ and DHS: Proposed Rule Uses False Public Health Claims to Bar Asylum Seekers

“The proposed Rule weaponizes public health arguments against asylum seekers without safeguarding the country from communicable disease.”

In a new Public Comment submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Monday, August 10, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) highlights the Trump administration’s unscientific, cruel, and politically motivated attacks on people who seek asylum in the United States.

Weaponizing a demonstrably false “public health” justification, the proposed Rule (Rule RIN 1615-AC57 / USCIS Docket No. 2020-0013; RIN 1125-AB08 / A.G. Order No. 4747-2020 Security Bars and Processing) simultaneously endangers asylum seekers while doing nothing to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Public Comment points out:

“The proposed Rule classifies vast categories of asylum seekers as a national security threat, based on the supposed threat of communicable disease. PHR can state definitively that the current asylum system already safeguards against communicable disease. This Rule is unnecessary, cruel, and unlawful. It is not based on sound science. It will not protect public health, but it will deny refugees the protection they deserve and are legally entitled to seek.”

If the administration were truly concerned with reducing the threat of COVID-19, it would heed evidence-based recommendations by public health experts, rather than using unscientific public health arguments as a cover for an anti-asylum agenda.”

In July, PHR joined with Human Rights First and Amnesty International to contest the ban and spotlight the baseless, illegal, and xenophobic restrictions on asylum and other humanitarian protections (See online resource: New Asylum Ban, Recycled Pretext: Proposed Rule Would Illegally, Unjustly Bar Many Asylum Seekers on Public Health Grounds).  

Some 170 top public health and medical experts have voiced their opposition to the proposed Rule in a letter sent last week to U.S. Attorney General William Bar and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf.

To spotlight the impacts of the proposed Rule, PHR has also mobilized the medical expertise of its PHR Asylum Network, a group of 1,700+ trained health professionals who provide more than 700 pro bono forensic evaluations annually for asylum seekers and applicants for other forms of humanitarian relief. PHR clinicians are deeply familiar with the serious harms many asylum seekers have fled and the strong evidentiary basis for their claims to protection in the United States. See video testimonials on the proposed ban from PHR Asylum Network members Dr. Rupa Patel, Dr. Joseph Shin, and Dr. Sural Shah.

As the Public Comment notes:

This Rule is being used to erode protections for asylum seekers while failing to further the public health needs on which it is purportedly based. By banning asylum seekers on baseless public health grounds, this Rule violates the right to seek asylum and U.S. obligations under international treaties and domestic law. The proposed change in U.S. regulations will not protect public health but will return many asylum seekers to risks of grave harm or death in their home countries.

We urge you to rescind this dangerous Rule immediately and restore protections for individual fleeing persecution. Any future Rules should be consistent with both U.S. legal obligations and evidence-driven public health guidance.”

Now that the public comment window has closed, DOJ and DHS will have to consider each of the more than 4,000 comments submitted before publishing a final Rule.

Ahead of the deadline to submit public comments, members of the PHR Asylum Network spoke out on social media to encourage asylum advocates to register their opposition.

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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