1,383 medical professionals today demanded that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) end the Title 42 border expulsions order that has systematically endangered thousands of people who seek asylum in the United States.
Including clinicians from 49 U.S. states and territories, as well as the District of Columbia, the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals signed letters to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stating that the Title 42 order “lacks epidemiological evidence” and has “no basis in public health best practice.” Today’s letter marks the largest mobilization of medical professionals against the discriminatory Title 42 policy to date.
“Instead of ‘following the science,’ with Title 42, the Biden administration is twisting the facts and subjecting asylum seekers to grave dangers,” said Alejandro Moreno, MBBS, MPH, JD, MACP, University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. “With today’s letters, the medical community is standing up to tell the CDC to stop invoking our profession to advance xenophobic immigration policy. The Title 42 order is junk science with no grounding in evidence and flies in the face of public health, U.S. and international law, and common decency.”
Enacted by the Trump administration and embraced by President Biden, the Title 42 order purports to protect U.S. public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC order singles out asylum seekers for immediate expulsion while many other types of travelers continue to enter the country during the pandemic, despite a lack of epidemiological evidence that migrants are responsible for COVID-19 surges in the United States. The U.S. government has used the CDC order to expel children and adults seeking refuge nearly 1.2 million times since March 2020 – often separating families in the process – to dangerous situations and squalid encampments on the Mexican side of the border or back to the same countries from which asylum seekers fled persecution.
The medical professionals also warned in the letter that the CDC’s credibility as a science-based institution is at stake the longer the agency backs the pseudoscientific border expulsion policy:
“In addition to undermining the well-being and legal rights of asylum seekers, the CDC’s own name and reputation as a trusted scientific institution are also being eroded by the perpetuation of a public health order that has no basis in public health best practice…. Former CDC officials have themselves indicated that they never supported the use of Title 42 to deny people the opportunity to seek asylum. It is extremely disappointing to see this Trump-era policy embraced and extended under your watch.”
Medical and human rights groups have documented the severe physical and mental health consequences for asylum seekers expelled under the Title 42 policy. An investigation published by Physicians for Human Rights in June 2021 showed how the Title 42 order results in family separations as well as a range of psychological harms, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Based on in-depth interviews conducted in Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana, Mexico with asylum seekers expelled under the order and with local medical professionals, the report also sheds light on abusive actions perpetrated by U.S. border officials during the Title 42 expulsion process.
Human Rights First has documented at least 6,356 kidnappings, sexual assaults, and other violent attacks against people who were expelled to Mexico under the order since President Biden took office.
“As outlined by the CDC itself, our best defense against COVID-19 includes vaccines, masking, testing, and other proven public health measures. Expelling thousands of people who fled unimaginable persecution back to dangerous settings does nothing to protect public health,” said Elena Jiménez Gutiérrez, MD, PHR Asylum Network member and Project Lifeline board member.
Black immigrants face disproportionate harms from Title 42 and elevated risks of deportation. More than 7,000 Haitian asylum seekers were expelled to Haiti in recent weeks, despite the political unrest, violence, and natural disasters that have affected the country.
While legal challenges to the Title 42 order work their way through the courts, the Biden administration has demonstrated its intention to continue implementing the order indefinitely. Several high-ranking Biden officials have resigned in protest over the policy, including a Department of State senior advisor who called Title 42 “illegal and inhumane.”
“With new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths trending down in much of the United States and highly effective tools like vaccines at our disposal, it has become crystal clear that the Biden administration is misusing an antiquated public health order to enact a callous immigration agenda, not to stem COVID-19,” said Paul Spiegel, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This is about the administration defending itself against right-wing talking points, not defending the country from COVID-19. The Title 42 expulsion order is a deadly farce and we clinicians across the country demand its immediate repeal.”
Since the Title 42 order was enacted in March 2020, leading medical professionals and organizations have called out the unscientific nature of the order, warned of its consequences, and called on both the Trump and Biden administrations to revoke it.