EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Border advocates are echoing a UN official’s call for the Biden administration to stop using the COVID-19 pandemic to quickly expel those who came into the country without authorization.
“I appeal to the government of the United States to swiftly lift the public health-related asylum restrictions that remain in effect at the border and to restore access to asylum for the people whose lives depend on it, in line with international legal and human rights obligations,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in an open letter on Thursday.
Grandi was referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 public health order to prevent cross-border spread of the coronavirus. The U.S. Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations have expelled to Mexico a combined 549,858 people since Oct. 1, some within hours of their arrival, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
Grandi said the expulsions have denied access to asylum procedures to hundreds of thousands and created “serious humanitarian consequences” in northern Mexico.
“(We) have maintained since the start of the pandemic that protecting public health and protecting access to asylum […] are fully compatible,” Grandi said. “At the height of the public health emergency, many countries put in place protocols such as health screening, testing and quarantine measures to protect both public health and the right to seek asylum.”
Some who serve immigrant populations in El Paso said the previous administration did not have public health in mind when it came up with Title 42.
“It is clear that the Trump administration did not institute Title 42 for public health purposes, but to deter immigration through cruelty,” said Jessica Miles, of Miles Immigration Law in El Paso. “We are better than this. President Biden must end Title 42 immediately and he must push Congress to fix our broken immigration system so that immigrants are treated with dignity and the United States can live up to its ideals.”
Non-profits such as the Hope Border Institute and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center also called for an end to Title 42.
“Title 42 is just another attempt at stopping immigration through deterrence. But, as we know from decades of failures, deterrence does not work,” said Linda Rivas, executive director of Las Americas. “All this does is force families to make cruel, gut-wrenching choices once they get to the border. It has revived family separation and driven the numbers of unaccompanied minors as parents send their children across without them in a desperate effort to get them to safety.”
Border Republican leaders, however, maintain that lifting Title 42 will encourage more unauthorized migration, which they expect will surpass 1 million people this year.