CDC’s Title 42 Ban on Immigration at Southern Border Openly Discriminates without Scientific Basis | The Center for Victims of Torture

CDC’s Title 42 Ban on Immigration at Southern Border Openly Discriminates without Scientific Basis

Monday, November 29, 2021

Jessica Douglas is external relations officer, CVT Georgia.

On March 20, 2020, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield issued an order, using the agency’s public health authority under Title 42, which gave the Trump administration the authority to ban asylum seekers and others without “valid travel documents” from entering the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. This law, however, has been used to expel thousands of people seeking safe haven in the U.S. without due process. U.S. and international law affirm one’s right to seek asylum at the border, but the Title 42 ban circumvents the law by weaponizing the COVID-19 pandemic to implement hardline immigration policies.

Despite widespread outcry against the Title 42 ban, the CDC has repeatedly renewed the policy. Although the Biden administration pledged to move toward a more just and humane immigration system, the law was indefinitely extended on May 19, 2021 and is up for renewal later this month. Among the ban’s dissenters are several senior CDC medical experts who have asserted that the law lacked public health justification, over 60 members of Congress, and Biden administration officials and advisors. Many public health experts also decried the law in an open letter released on May 18, writing:

“Trust is the cornerstone of an effective pandemic response; yet it is undermined when public health authorities such as the CDC issue orders that endanger public health or when their public health guidance is subject to political interference.”

In the same letter, the experts assert that through the mass expulsion of asylum seekers, “The CDC order . . . will only increase the risk to health and safety of people seeking protection and endanger public health on both sides of the border.”

In June 2020, the Center for Victims of Torture in Georgia penned an open letter to the CDC that was joined by numerous members of Georgia’s public health, medical, legal and immigrants’ rights communities to rescind the Title 42 order.

“. . . We are deeply dismayed that you have chosen to sacrifice CDC’s independence and allow CDC’s voice to be used instead to advance the current administration’s anti-immigration policies. This not only damages the CDC’s reputation as a global public health authority, but it hurts all of us who have come to depend on CDC for credible, unbiased guidance.”

On November 8, 2021, the CDC and Biden administration reopened ports of entry to tourists and other vaccinated non-essential travelers, while continuing to block and expel asylum seekers regardless of vaccination status. The lack of public health justification for the Title 42 ban has never been more evident.

Not only is it illegal to deny the right to seek asylum, but it is also cruel and unethical. Families, adults and children who sought asylum are instead sent back to unsafe and life-threatening conditions. Since President Biden took office, Human Rights First has reported at least 7,647 violent attacks against people blocked from requesting asylum in the U.S. These attacks include kidnapping, rape and assault. Despite the legal obligations to protect asylum seekers, the Title 42 ban has enabled further violence and harm against an already traumatized community.

Since September 2021, the Department of Homeland Security has used the Title 42 order to expel migrants on at least 76 expulsion flights to Haiti, a country the U.S. Department of State currently classifies at the highest threat level, a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory. These findings, reported by Human Rights First, estimate that nearly 8,000 individuals have been expelled on these flights at a cost of at least $15 million on flights alone.

Public health experts and epidemiologists have presented numerous alternatives to the Title 42 ban that would both comply with the legal right to seek asylum and protect public health. In the open letter from leading public health experts, the authors detail many alternatives to the current Title 42 procedures. These measures include imposing proper social distancing, using outdoor areas for processing, enforcing mask requirements for both officers and individuals entering the U.S., using plexiglass barriers or face shields for officers during interviews, allowing asylum seekers to shelter in place with their families or other contacts in the U.S. through parole and case management, and many other recommendations. Harold Koh, a senior State Department official who resigned in October after issuing a scathing memo against the Title 42 expulsion policy, wrote, “Lawful, more humane alternatives plainly exist.”

We call on the CDC to reclaim their voice and independence and safeguard public health while also upholding our nation’s commitment to protect the lives of asylum seekers, torture survivors and unaccompanied children. In short, we call for the immediate end to the Title 42 ban when it comes up for renewal again later this month.



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