Joint Letter to President Biden, Secretary Mayorkas & AG Garland on Title 42
Dear President Biden, Secretary Mayorkas, and Attorney General Garland:
In the wake of multiple federal court decisions holding that your administration’s policies are likely unlawful, we, the 71 undersigned organizations, are appalled that you have chosen to file a notice of appeal in the Huisha-Huisha litigation, resisting an order to process the protection claims of families with children who seek asylum. This decision serves as a particularly disturbing step in what is emerging to be a clear pattern of failure to uphold the refugee laws enacted by Congress. We write to urge you to immediately change course before you further tarnish this administration’s record and inflict even more harm on families, children and adults seeking our country’s protection. We call on the administration to immediately end its embrace, defense, and advancement of illegal and cruel Trump administration policies that harm families and people seeking protection and bolster xenophobic rhetoric by treating people seeking protection as threats. Instead, we urge your administration to restore access to U.S. asylum at ports of entry and also to immediately stop blocking and expelling asylum seekers and migrants to life-threatening dangers.
On September 16, a federal district court held that the government likely does not have authority under U.S. law to implement the Title 42 policy, which subjects people to “real threats of violence and persecution” by returning them to danger in Mexico or the countries they fled, and enjoined the use of the policy against families. Rather than respect human rights and restore asylum in compliance with this ruling, the administration has already filed a notice of appeal in this case. Earlier this month, another federal district court held that the government’s policy of turning back people seeking protection at ports of entry is likely unlawful under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Your administration must reverse course and accept these court rulings, immediately take steps to restart asylum processing, and permanently end these policies, which were designed to deter and punish people seeking safety in the United States and betray our values and legal obligations towards refugees.
Rather than abiding by campaign promises to uphold the legal right to seek asylum and treat migrants humanely, your administration has embraced and escalated the unlawful Title 42 policy created by the Trump administration to use public health as a pretext to evade U.S. refugee laws. In August 2021, your administration issued a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order extending the policy and relying on much of the same dangerous and false rhetoric that the Trump administration relied on in its CDC orders.
The human toll of the Title 42 policy during your first eight months in office is enormous. Since January 2021, there have been at least 6,356 public and media reports of violent attacks—including rape, kidnapping, trafficking, and assault—against people blocked from requesting asylum protection at the U.S.-Mexico border and/or expelled to Mexico. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other international bodies have repeatedly condemned the use of Title 42 to return refugees to danger in violation of international law and urged the United States to restore access to asylum. Leading public health experts have warned the administration time and time again that the policy has no scientific basis as a public health measure and urged the use of rational science-based measures to process asylum seekers and migrants to safety. In its ruling enjoining the use of Title 42, the district court also emphasized that the government’s public health arguments were specious.
This month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expelled dozens of Haitian families and adults to danger in Haiti under Title 42, despite ongoing turmoil following the assassination of the country’s president in July and a major earthquake in August, and flew more than 6,000 Guatemalan migrants and asylum seekers directly to the danger they had fled in Guatemala without an opportunity to apply for U.S. asylum. Since August, DHS has also expelled asylum seekers and migrants directly to southern Mexico, where Mexican immigration authorities forced them to cross the border into remote areas of Guatemala. These expulsions to southern Mexico sparked public condemnation from UNHCR, which warned that this practice “increases the risk of chain refoulement—pushbacks by successive countries— of vulnerable people in danger, in contravention of international law and the humanitarian principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention.”
We further call on your administration to take all necessary legal steps to end the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), most importantly by immediately making a public commitment to issue a new policy memo that provides a fuller explanation for the decision to terminate MPP and that resolves any perceived Administrative Procedure Act (APA) issues identified by the district court in its ruling requiring the government to restart this shameful program. The APA was the singular concern cited by the Supreme Court in its decision upholding the district court’s preliminary injunction, and the administration’s failure to date to commit to issuing a new policy memo raises serious concerns over whether you intend to use the legal challenge as cover to backtrack on your commitment to fulfill your campaign promise to end MPP.
During the two years that MPP was in effect, there were over 1,500 publicly reported cases of violent attacks against people returned to Mexico, including asylum seekers who were brutally murdered. In addition to subjecting individuals to life-threatening dangers under MPP, the program violated the due process rights of asylum seekers and migrants by stranding them in Mexico without access to legal counsel, forcing them to risk their lives to attend their court hearings—there have been numerous reports of asylum seekers in MPP being kidnapped while attempting to reach immigration court—and requiring many to prepare their cases while facing unrelenting fear and insecurity. It is clear that there is no way to make MPP lawful, humane, safe, or rights-respecting. The administration should take all lawful and necessary steps to preserve the MPP wind down and continue processing individuals previously subjected to MPP into the United States while taking immediate steps to address the district court’s concerns to terminate the policy once and for all.
Policies that turn back, block, expel, and force asylum seekers and migrants to wait in danger are unlawful, as now confirmed by multiple federal courts, and we entreat your administration to immediately stop inflicting violence on people seeking safety in our country by permanently ending these policies and restoring asylum in compliance with U.S. and international refugee laws.