For Immediate Release: Wednesday, September 1
Contact: Monette Zard, Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, firstname.lastname@example.org
Epidemiologists and Public Health Experts Implore Biden Administration to End Title 42 and Restart Asylum
WASHINGTON -- Leading epidemiologists, former officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other leading public health experts today wrote to the Biden administration condemning its “scientifically baseless and politically motivated” Title 42 expulsion policy, which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to wield to block and expel asylum seekers to life-threatening dangers under the guise of protecting public health. In the wake of the Biden administration’s decision to endorse and extend Title 42 border expulsions through a new CDC order that relies on much of the same flawed reasoning as the CDC orders issued by the Trump administration, experts urged the Biden administration to rescind the Title 42 order, explaining that this order “continues to unethically and illegally exploit the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Since the Trump administration first exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to implement this xenophobic policy in March 2020, public health experts have repeatedly objected to the policy’s specious public health justifications and recommended rational science-based measures to safely process asylum seekers and migrants at the border while promoting public health and upholding U.S. and international obligations to refugees. This is the first letter analyzing and exposing the public health flaws contained in the August 2021 CDC order issued under the Biden administration, and is signed by former CDC experts, epidemiologists, public health school deans, and other leading public health experts.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the Biden administration continues to disregard science in favor of a cruel and unjust policy,” said Dr. Michele Heisler, medical director of Physicians for Human Rights and professor at the University of Michigan Medical School and School of Public Health. “There is no place for discrimination, racism and anti-immigrant policy objectives in our public health institutions. The Title 42 policy breeds distrust in the CDC and sends a message that xenophobia trumps health and safety.”
Experts noted that in carrying out this policy the Biden administration endangers public health rather than promoting it by subjecting individuals to complicated and high-risk deportation strategies. For example, it continues to detain asylum seekers and migrants in congregate settings for days to weeks before transporting them to other border locations and expelling them, whereas utilizing evidence-based mitigation techniques to safely parole them into the United States would protect them, government officials and border communities. In August, DHS began flying Central Americans from the U.S. border to southern Mexico, where many are then refouled to rural regions of Guatemala. These practices, in addition to raising concerns about unlawful refoulement, heighten the risk of COVID-19 infection and spread, as confirmed in a rare rebuke by the U.N. Refugee Agency.
“Rather than implementing the Title 42 policy, which threatens public health, the administration should employ the public health measures that we have recommended time and time again to process asylum seekers at the border and parole them to live in safety in their communities, thereby avoiding congregate detention and high-risk transportation,” said Dr. Patrick Kachur, professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
In addition to endangering public health, the expulsion policy inflicts enormous harm on people seeking protection in the United States. Human Rights First released a report in August documenting more than 6,300 kidnappings and other violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers blocked at ports of entry or expelled to Mexico by DHS since President Biden took office.
“By throwing its weight behind Title 42, the CDC is fully embracing a policy that is based on political expediency, not science. There is no question that the United States has the capability, knowledge, and resources to end Title 42. The only thing we lack is the political will to close the chapter on this xenophobic policy,” said Dr. Ron Waldman, president of Doctors of the World and professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University.
“Applying a public health policy to justify the expulsion of vulnerable people into harm’s way runs counter to the public health tenets of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health. It undermines the credibility of our public health institutions, and in the process, makes us all less safe” said Monette Zard, associate professor and director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Experts called on the U.S. government to implement evidence-based public health measures such as avoiding congregate detention settings, enabling routine testing, providing access to vaccinations, maximizing ventilation, and enabling use of masks and social distancing. They demanded a clear timeline for the revocation of the CDC order, robust data systems with public results, and a strong, external monitoring component to ensure the protection of the rights of asylum seekers moving forward.
The letter was spearheaded by a consortium of public health and medical experts from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,and Physicians for Human Rights.
To speak with signatories of the letter, please contact Monette Zard, Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, email@example.com.