Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes today’s end of Title 42, a Trump-era policy that weaponized the pandemic to expel people seeking asylum from the United States. While Title 42 was framed as a way to safeguard Americans from COVID-19, PHR demonstrated for years that there was never a credible public health rationale behind a targeted ban of asylum seekers. Over the past three years, PHR galvanized thousands of medical professionals and public health experts across the country to oppose this “junk science” border expulsion policy under both the Trump and Biden administrations.
PHR is alarmed that in place of Title 42, the Biden administration is introducing a new Rule that presumptively denies individuals the right to claim asylum or other forms of protection on U.S. soil at any coastal border or near the U.S.-Mexico border unless they have prearranged a specific time and location to present at a port of entry through CBP One, a U.S. government mobile application; sought protection from another country they have passed through; or qualify under exceptional circumstances that have been extremely narrowly defined.
This Rule also describes several strategies that aim to broaden safe, legal routes into the U.S. PHR supports efforts to enhance family reunification processes, expand refugee resettlement, and establish regional processing centers. Expanding legal and safe routes is a crucial component of any effective and compassionate refugee protection system. However, such laudable measures cannot replace the U.S.’s commitment to uphold domestic and international law.
The following statement is attributable to Michele Heisler, MD, MPH, medical director at PHR and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan:
“The Biden administration is swapping one cruel border expulsion policy for other equally cruel border expulsion policies. We welcome the end of Title 42 – which never had a public health justification – and the introduction of more safe and legal pathways to the U.S. This new Rule, however, is likely to cause significant harm to a population that is already highly vulnerable due to the factors that made them seek protection in the first place, compounded by the conditions faced on their journey to the border, including extortion, kidnapping, rape, and other forms of physical and psychological violence.”
“Erecting new barriers to asylum like those proposed in this Rule will no doubt prolong and intensify human suffering. These provisions risk exacerbating the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border, with asylum seekers residing in hazardous border towns in Mexico indefinitely facing continued psychological trauma and health harms.”
“The Biden administration must both broaden safer, legal pathways and establish equitable, efficient, and trauma-informed processes for those seeking asylum at U.S. borders. Resources should be directed towards processing the asylum claims of individuals regardless of where they are and how they reach U.S. soil in a timely and humane manner, rather than on preventing people, many of whom are victims of persecution and torture, from accessing the asylum adjudication system altogether.”
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.