Title 42: The Cruel Trump Policy Continuing Under Biden
by Melita Seibel, Intern
Joe Biden’s election brought cheers from refugee and immigration advocates everywhere. It meant an end to Trump’s cruel, far-ranging effort to prevent refugees from seeking and receiving asylum. Or so they hoped.
President Biden has indeed taken steps to protect the rights of refugees. For example, he ended the “Muslim ban” and has begun to process asylum seekers forced into the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP.) But he’s also continued harmful policies—including the misuse of Title 42.
Title 42 is a Trump-era policy that uses the pandemic as pretext to expel refugee families and adults to danger in Mexico and in the countries they fled, under the guise of "protecting" public health. Trump pressured the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to issue an order under Title 42 authorizing Covid-related expulsions, over the objections of the CDC’s own experts. Beginning in March 2020, he used the order to deny thousands of refugees access to the asylum system, sending them back to persecution, torture, and other serious danger, often in violation of federal and international law.
Trump’s move to weaponize the pandemic to further his anti-immigration agenda wasn’t surprising given his record throughout his four years. But this misuse of public health authority has continued, and even worsened, under “pro-immigrant” President Biden. This administration expelled almost as many immigrants using Title 42 in two months as the Trump administration did in seven months.
Since January, Human Rights First, along with several other human rights organizations, have been calling on the Biden administration to stop using Title 42. Instead, it should adopt science-based measures to protect public health, while processing asylum seekers at the border.
White House officials claim President Biden is continuing Title 42 expulsions to prevent the spread of the virus. Public health officials, however, report that this use of Title 42 doesn’t help to contain the virus, and has actually worsened its spread. Asylum seekers are held in crowded and unsanitary detention centers, which make it impossible to distance and protect themselves against the virus. Furthermore, migrants who test positive for COVID-19 are often sent back to the countries they fled, a move that encourages the spread of disease. Public health experts sent a letter urging US officials to end this policy, highlighting the hypocrisy of allowing tourists and other high-risk individuals entry to our country, but not asylum seekers fearing for their lives.
Black refugees are disproportionately represented among those blocked by way of this “public health” order. Asylum seekers from predominantly Black countries, like Haiti and Cameroon, have been expelled by the thousands this year and have no other avenue to gain asylum. These countries have much lower COVID-19 rates than the United States and most other Latin American countries, so public health clearly isn’t the driving factor.
The Haitian Bridge Alliance and the UndocuBlack Network have been vocal about the mistreatment of Black asylum seekers, who are more likely to be detained and deported. Additionally, due to political turmoil and unrest in these countries, they face a high risk of harm or even death when they’re sent back on what advocates call “death flights.”
President Biden is using the pandemic as an excuse to deny refuge to tens of thousands of asylum seekers in need of protection. During the campaign, he promised to end Trump’s inhumane policies at the border. To fulfill that pledge, he has to stop abusing Title 42.