Title 42 is Not About Public Health. It’s About Exclusion.
by Paloma Delgado, former Human Rights First Intern
Using Title 42 to expel migrants and asylum seekers from the United States has never been about protecting public health. It is a policy of exclusion, a political tool disguised and presented as a means of safeguarding the American public.
What we are instead left with is a program that further endangers people seeking safety in the U.S., handing them over to the likes of drug cartels, gangs, and corrupt Mexican government officials — or sending them back to the very persecution they fled.
First implemented by the Trump administration, Title 42 bars and expels people from seeking safety under the pretense that migrants entering the country pose a health risk amidst the spread of COVID-19. Under the Biden administration, the policy not only remains in place, but has been further expanded.
The CDC extended the use of Title 42 in August, and again in early October, disregarding the recommendations of public health experts and epidemiologists who argue that the policy is “scientifically baseless and politically motivated.” The Biden administration continues to fight in court to keep Title 42 in place, even after a September 2021 ruling found the policy likely illegal. Though Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that expelling refugees was “not the solution to an outbreak,” and a senior member of President Biden’s own administration called the policy “illegal,” “inhumane,” and “not worthy of this Administration,” it continues to be used to expel refugees to danger. Experts have called on the administration to resume asylum processing based on science and in accordance with U.S. refugee law.
Rather than protect public health, Title 42 actively endangers it. Since President Biden took office, Human Rights First has now tracked at least 7,647 kidnappings, sexual assaults, and violent attacks against asylum seekers blocked from protection or expelled to danger in Mexico under Title 42.
Title 42 targets and inflicts enormous harm on populations most vulnerable and historically marginalized. Interviews conducted by Human Rights First researchers confirm the severe suffering and trauma caused by President Biden’s use of the policy.
Domestic abuse survivors, children, individuals with disabilities, and people with serious health conditions have been blocked and returned to dangerous conditions. Black and LGBTQ asylum seekers have endured discriminatory treatment and biased-motivated violence.
As it stands, the asylum process is far from safe, let alone humane. The horrifying images of a Border Patrol agent on horseback, grabbing a Haitian man by the collar of his shirt while holding reins in his other hand, encompasses the flawed and traumatizing nature of how asylum seekers are often treated at the border, and the disproportionate harm this system doles out to Black and other migrants of color.
The Biden administration has harnessed the new CDC order to speed up the expulsion of thousands of Haitians, including many asylum seekers. As Haitians are expelled back to danger, Haitian officials asked the United States to stop the flights amidst political and humanitarian turmoil in Haiti — from the Haitian President’s assassination to a recent earthquake that left the country in crisis.
For a country that has spent 34 percent more on immigration enforcement than all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined (as of Fiscal Year 2018), it is bewildering and incomprehensible that there are not enough resources and funding to redirect toward rebuilding our asylum system and welcoming individuals seeking protection at the border safely and effectively.
The Biden administration’s refusal to restart asylum processing in the U.S. has caused immeasurable harm over these past eight months. The utter lack of responsibility and decency has thrown the very ideals the Biden campaign claimed to be built upon out the window.
Under the Trump administration, and now under the Biden administration, Title 42 has been used to exclude people in need of protection from the refugee system intended to protect them. It has been used to exclude the most marginalized from life-saving protections and fueled the humanitarian crisis at our border. This crisis cannot be addressed through expulsion flights, rapid expulsions at the border, or false health claims, but through restarting asylum in accordance with U.S. refugee law and treaty obligations. It’s time for the United States to once again live up to its history and ideals as a land of welcome.