The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an updated order late Monday extending a Trump-era policy that allows the federal government to quickly expel migrants on public health grounds, a move that rights groups decried as both illegal and morally unconscionable.
"Forcefully expelling migrants without due process does not protect public health, and it won't slow the spread of the Delta variant."
The Trump administration invoked the so-called Title 42 authority in March of 2020—at around the start of the coronavirus pandemic—to justify closing the southern U.S. border to most asylum seekers, a long-sought goal of then-White House advisor Stephen Miller.
While the Biden administration earlier this year stopped applying the Title 42 order to unaccompanied children who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border, the CDC has largely kept the Trump-era policy intact, infuriating human rights organizations that challenged the former president's policy from the outset and resumed their legal challenge against the Biden administration in court this week.
In its order (pdf) on Monday, the Biden CDC—which is under fire for allowing a nationwide eviction moratorium to lapse over the weekend—insisted that keeping U.S. borders closed to most asylum seekers "is necessary to protect the public health" amid surging coronavirus infections, a claim that experts have adamantly rejected.
"Title 42 is a sham," said RAICES, a Texas-based nonprofit that has joined the ACLU, Oxfam America, and other groups in suing the Biden administration over its continued use of the public health authority. "Forcefully expelling migrants without due process does not protect public health, and it won't slow the spread of the Delta variant when hundreds of families, many with small children, are huddled together at ports of entry."
"It's dangerous and deadly for the Biden administration to pretend this is a public health measure," the group continued. "He must end Title 42 and humanely welcome these families now."
The CDC said Monday that its directive will remain in effect "until the CDC director determines that the danger of further introduction of Covid-19 into the United States from covered noncitizens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health." In other words, the order is indefinite.
In response to the CDC's announcement, the Department of Homeland Security—which is tasked with carrying out Title 42 expulsions—made clear that it will continue to remove individuals under the public health agency's order.
"Title 42 is not an immigration authority, but a public health authority, and its continued use is dictated by CDC and governed by the CDC's analysis of public health factors," a DHS spokesperson said in a statement. "Under Title 42, DHS continues to expel the majority of single adults, and, to the extent possible, families encountered at the Southwest Border."
The CDC's new order came hours after the ACLU and other organizations announced that they are resuming their legal action against the Biden administration in an effort to end Title 42, which has been used to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants this year. Since the Trump administration invoked the authority last year, human rights groups have maintained that Title 42 unlawfully denies migrants the right to seek asylum in the United States.
"We are deeply disappointed that the Biden administration has abandoned its promise of fair and humane treatment for families seeking safety, leaving us no choice but to resume litigation," Neela Chakravartula, managing attorney at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, said in a statement Monday. "The Title 42 policy imperils the very lives of children and parents fleeing persecution."
"It's racist, it's illegal, and it has no valid basis in public health, as medical experts have attested for over a year now," Chakravartula continued. "That the administration has chosen to continue this Trump-era policy, which violates our domestic and international legal obligations to refugees, is a moral failure and an abdication of leadership."
In a detailed report published last week, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) documented what it characterized as the "profound" physical and mental health harms that Title 42 expulsions have inflicted on migrants seeking refuge from violence and persecution in their home countries. Migrants interviewed for PHR's investigation recalled immigration authorities telling them that "there is no asylum" because of the pandemic.
"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," the group said.
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Jake Johnson.