The Biden administration will end Title 42—a public health order that has been misused to block and expel people seeking protection at the US border more than 1.7 million times in the past two years—in May, according to multiple media reports today. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) welcomes this long overdue decision to revoke a xenophobic policy that does nothing to protect public health and in fact directly threatens the lives and health of many of our patients.
Title 42—invoked by the Trump administration in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and repeatedly extended by the Biden administration—effectively blocks asylum seekers and authorizes mass expulsions without due process from the US to dangerous cities along the US-Mexico border and to countries of origin and residence including Haiti, Brazil, and Colombia. People seeking safety are abandoned with limited access to shelter and basic services and living under constant threat of violence and extortion by criminal gangs or local police.
MSF has provided medical and psychosocial support to people along the migration route in Mexico since 2012. MSF teams have witnessed the medical consequences and heard about the threats and fears that asylum seekers and migrants have faced due to the Title 42 policy. Many MSF patients in Mexico have fled violence or persecution in their home countries. They suffer from physical injuries and psychological trauma from violence back home, and often report being further victimized along the migration route. Some asylum seekers have also reported physical abuse during their short time in US detention.
Dr. Carrie Teicher, director of programs for MSF USA, gave the following statement today:
“The decision to end Title 42 is a huge victory for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been blocked from seeking safety at the US border.
“Title 42 is a xenophobic policy that uses public health concerns around COVID-19 as an excuse to effectively close the border to asylum seekers. It’s impossible to fully express the devastating impact of 1.7 million expulsions on individual human lives. There has never been any public health justification for Title 42, and its end will come two years too late for too many vulnerable people.
“We hope that our patients left waiting for months in precarious conditions in Mexico will finally have an opportunity to seek asylum. With the planned end of Title 42 in May, we expect that all people fleeing violence or persecution—regardless of their nationality, race, or ethnicity—will be able to exercise their legal right to seek asylum at the US southern border. The Biden administration has had more than 14 months to adequately plan for the lifting of this measure. The administration alone is responsible for ensuring that the asylum system is fully functional.
“It is important that the processing of migrants and asylum seekers is conducted in a safe, humane, and orderly way. Proper shelter and essential support services must be adequately funded and staffed, both in the US and Mexico. It is crucial that the end of Title 42 is not used by the Biden administration as justification for imposing other measures to block people from seeking asylum at the US southern border.
“We once again call on the Biden administration to uphold its promises to create a safe and humane asylum system, and to respect the fact that seeking safety is not a crime.”