We are appalled and dismayed by the Biden administration’s decision to appeal a district court ruling that would have protected asylum seeking families. Yesterday, the Florence Project enthusiastically welcomed a federal court injunction finding that the government’s expulsion of migrant families under the pretext of public health was illegal and ordering that families be allowed to present claims for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Today, our enthusiasm gave way to disappointment and disillusionment when the Biden administration announced it plans to appeal that decision. It is both stunning and deeply troubling to watch the Biden administration – which campaigned on the promise of safe and orderly processing of asylum seekers – fight tooth and nail to keep harmful Trump-era policies alive.
Yesterday, a federal court recognized what human and immigrant rights advocates, as well as the public health community, had been saying for over a year – relying on federal public health laws to expel asylum seekers without legal process was dangerous, illegal, and served no reasonable public health benefit. The court found that the CDC’s power under Title 42, which allows the government to implement a number of protections to ensure that a communicable disease is not introduced into the United States via people or products, does not extend to mass expulsion and lack of access to asylum, a right guaranteed in federal law. The previous administration had relied on this sweeping public health authority to illegally expel 21,500 families between March and December 2020. Although numerous public health officials and physicians, including former CDC officials, have called for an end to the misuse of Title 42, thousands of migrants have been expelled since that time.
The dangers of Title 42 are well-known and irrefutable. In the first seven months of the Biden administration alone, human rights advocates documented over 6,300 kidnappings, rapes, and other violent assaults against asylum seekers returned to Mexico. Every day, asylum seekers in Sonora report to Florence Project staff that they are desperate, both because of the dangers to their physical safety but also because these harmful border policies force them to live in abject conditions. The majority of migrants in Sonora are either in overcrowded shelters where they are vulnerable to exploitation, or in rooms that they rent at very high cost but lack running water or electricity. The Title 42 policy also forces many families to make the impossible choice between sending their children to the border alone as unaccompanied minors, or trying to survive while being displaced at the border in ongoing danger.
In finding that the families will suffer irreversible harm and are likely to prevail in their claims if the court did not halt this policy now, the court cited multiple declarations submitted by NGOs like the Florence Project describing that, after the U.S. government expels these families into Mexico, “they are often victimized by cartels and gang members and face numerous barriers to finding safe places to shelter.” Returning to their countries of origin can be even more perilous, as those countries “are among the most dangerous in the world due to gang, gender, and family membership, and other identity-based violence.”
By choosing to appeal the federal court’s decision, the Biden administration is choosing to defend this indefensible policy and prolong the exceptional human suffering it causes.
“We will continue to advocate for families seeking protection at the border,” said Florence Project Border Action Team attorney Chelsea Sachau. “We have seen first-hand the homelessness, suffering, and brutality that this policy causes, and we will fight every single day to end this and any other policy that prevents people from being able to access asylum in the United States. We call on the Biden administration to immediately reverse course, drop this appeal, and instead focus its efforts on a return to swift, fair, and humane policy at the border.”