Toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Trump administration overrode the objections of public health experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and compelled the CDC to issue an order under Title 42 U.S.C. section 265 of the 1944 Public Health and Service Act that closed the border to migrants and asylum seekers. The government used public health as a pretext to summarily expel children and adults seeking refuge at the U.S. border more than 980,000 times, while at the same time allowing other types of travelers to continue to cross the border with no testing or quarantine requirements. Public health experts strenuously objected to the ban, pointing out the lack of epidemiological evidence for only banning this category of entrants to the United States while keeping the borders open to other travelers.
Nevertheless, six months into the Biden administration, the U.S. government continues to expel families and adults to countries where they face severe harm and persecution, violating their rights and failing to safeguard public health. The Biden administration also continues to carry out chaotic border expulsions that perpetuate family separation and further traumatize an already vulnerable population.
In May 2021, a Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) research team conducted interviews in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico with 28 asylum seekers who had been expelled under the Title 42 order, and with six health care workers providing services to migrants. The team sought to document people's experiences during expulsion, including family separation, the actions of U.S. and Mexican government officials during the expulsion process, and the physical and mental health impacts of expulsion and family separation.
People described an impossible situation, where they were unsafe in their own country, unsafe in Mexico, and yet unable to seek safety at the U.S. border. Every day that the Title 42 order continues to expel asylum seekers is another day that the U.S. government is harming people's health and violating their human rights.