As the Biden administration continues deporting thousands of Haitian asylum-seekers, United Nations refugee and human rights officials Tuesday called on the U.S. to respect the legal right of people fleeing violence and natural disasters to seek asylum in the United States.
"No matter who you are, regardless of your migration status, everyone has the same rights, and... the right to have the same protection."
—Marta Hurtado, OHCHR
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is in the process of deporting an estimated 14,000 Haitians under what critics claim is the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Biden administration is invoking Title 42, a section of the Public Health Service Act first used during the tenure of former President Donald Trump in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic to expedite the removal of asylum-seekers before their cases are processed.
Last week, a federal judge ordered an end to Title 42 expulsions. The Biden administration is appealing the order, set to take effect 14 days from the judge's ruling, while ramping up removal flights. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday called Title 42 a way to "protect the American public" and "the migrants themselves" from Covid-19.
Many of the asylum-seeking Haitians are encamped under a bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border near Del Rio, Texas. Accounts and images of the camp's squalid conditions, as well as photos and videos of mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents menacing Haitians with horse reins as whips, have sparked widespread alarm and calls to respect migrants' human and legal rights.
"We are disturbed by the images that we have seen and by the fact that we've seen all these migrants and refugees and asylum-seekers in transport to Port-au-Prince," said Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at a Tuesday press briefing in Geneva.
"We are seriously concerned by the fact that it appears that there have not been any individual assessments of the cases ... and that therefore maybe some of these people have not received the protection that they needed," Hurtado added. "What we always repeat is no matter who you are, regardless of your migration status, everyone has the same rights, and... the right to have the same protection."
Shabia Mantoo, the spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said at the briefing that "while some people arriving at the border may not be refugees, anyone who... claims to have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their country of origin, they should have access to asylum and to have their claim assessed before being subjected to expulsion or deportation."
"We have been calling for an end to these Title 42 public health-related asylum restrictions for quite some time," she added, "and to ensure access to asylum for those who lives really depend on it."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Brett Wilkins.