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Home / Press Release / Human Rights First Denounces CDC Directive to Continue Illegal Expulsion of Asylum-Seekers
April 20, 2020

Human Rights First Denounces CDC Directive to Continue Illegal Expulsion of Asylum-Seekers

WASHINGTON – In response to the Trump administration’s announcement that it will extend its illegal practice of immediately expelling asylum seekers and unaccompanied children at the U.S. border with Mexico, Human Rights First’s Director of Refugee Protection Eleanor Acer gave the following statement:

“The order from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) endangers the lives of asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children seeking U.S. protection. The extension of the CDC’s order constitutes a further disregard for international law and worsens an ongoing human rights tragedy in progress. Rather than saving lives, it puts more lives at risk. Decisions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic should be aimed at saving, not endangering lives, and should be driven by science, public health expertise, and respect for human rights.

“This extension, like the initial order in March, is a blatant effort to by-pass laws enacted by Congress to protect unaccompanied children and people seeking asylum from persecution. The CDC order does not override refugee and anti-trafficking laws passed by Congress and treaties the United States has ratified. Like the March 20 order, this extension utterly fails to acknowledge the many other tools Customs and Border Protection can use to safely process the cases of asylum seekers and children at the U.S. southern border.

“The CDC must immediately rescind this order. It is simply another attack by the Trump administration on the asylum process rather than a policy aimed at improving public health. The Trump administration can and should safely process asylum cases using public health measures such as social distancing; masks or similar face coverings; health screenings; and the use of parole and other alternatives to detention in congregate settings. The order attempts to hold compliance with U.S. refugee laws and treaties hostage to the availability of tests, which will hopefully be widely available in the future, despite the current availability of many other health safeguards. The bottom line is that the Trump administration will use any tool – even the exploitation of the CDC and a public health emergency – to turn away men, women and children seeking asylum at our border as protected by U.S. laws and treaties. ”

Last week, Human Rights First was one of 125 human rights, faith-based, legal and humanitarian groups man of which work with asylum-seekers at the U.S. border with Mexico that signed a letter calling for the immediate end of the illegal expulsions of asylum-seekers and other migrants at the southern border. The organization joined Physicians for Human Rights, Doctors without Borders, Amnesty International, Refugees International, and Women's Refugee Commission in condemning the initial CDC order.

Human Rights First has documented the incredible risks and violent attacks asylum-seekers face when they have been forced to remain in Mexico. These risks are only increased in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic. The letter lays out how these expulsions violate U.S. refugee, immigration and anti-trafficking laws passed by Congress, as well as due process and U.S. treaty obligations.

The text of the letter with the full list of signers can be found here.