The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees on Thursday issued a public statement calling on the Biden administration to end the Stephen Miller-pushed policy that’s used the pandemic as an excuse to quickly deport asylum-seekers. The policy, implemented last year under political pressure from Miller and former Vice President Mike Pence, has deported more than 600,000 asylum-seekers.
President Joe Biden has kept the policy in place despite pleas from legislators and advocates, deporting roughly half of that total under his administration. “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,” commissioner Filippo Grandi said.
“The Title 42 order has resulted in the expulsions of hundreds of thousands of people to Mexico or their countries of origin, denying their access to asylum procedures,” Grandi said in the statement. “Guaranteed access to safe territory and the prohibition of pushbacks of asylum-seekers are core precepts of the 1951 Refugee Convention and refugee law, which governments are required to uphold to protect the rights and lives of refugees. The expulsions have also had serious humanitarian consequences in northern Mexico.”
The Los Angeles Times reported in April that the “unprecedented” policy has made deported children and families “easy prey.” Central American mothers described to the LA Times how they were targeted by thugs after being expelled from the U.S., who then tried to extort relatives in the U.S. for cash. The Human Rights First organization has documented hundreds of instances of violence against asylum-seekers deported under Title 42 since January alone.
While the Biden administration has agreed to a number of concessions under the policy (including processing up to 250 vulnerable asylum-seekers daily), the top U.N. official called it “not an adequate response.” Grandi said “[t]here is an urgent need to take further steps to provide access at ports of entry which remain closed to most asylum-seekers owing to the Title 42 public health order by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in place since March last year.”
“We at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, have maintained since the start of the pandemic that protecting public health and protecting access to asylum, a fundamental human right, are fully compatible,” Grandi continued. “At the height of the public health emergency, many countries put in place protocols such as health screening, testing and quarantine measures, to simultaneously protect both public health and the right to seek asylum.”
Vox reported that the Biden administration “has offered little in the way of justification for keeping the policy in place.” Human Rights First’s Kennji Kizuka tweeted this week that an internal document obtained by the organization under the Freedom of Immigration Act revealed that the order was “politics, not public health. FOIA confirms that Trump CDC political appointee w/no public health expertise ‘work[ed] on’ order’s near ‘final version’ for ‘days.’ Hours after this email then-CDC Dir signed the order,” Kizuka wrote.
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