On Monday, the Attorneys General of Arizona, Missouri, and Louisiana filed a lawsuit in a District Court in Louisiana against the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) April 1, 2022 termination of Title 42. The lawsuit both belies the intent of the Title 42 policy by framing it as a necessary border enforcement control measure (not a public health measure) and regurgitates racist and discriminatory rhetoric about asylum seekers.
The lawsuit’s harmful rhetoric affirms what we’ve known all along: the Title 42 order was never about public health. It has always been a mechanism designed to prevent migration and circumvent legal protections for people fleeing persecution. In the wake of other harmful border policies such as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and the third country asylum ban rule, Title 42 has arguably been perhaps the most effective and cruel tool in keeping asylum seekers out of the United States by outright denying them any access whatsoever to the asylum process. Even worse, the Title 42 policy is carried out in such a way that centers politics over people, disproportionately expelling certain nationalities and Black and Brown people back to danger in Mexico or in countries of origin while simultaneously allowing white asylum seekers into the United States at higher rates.
“We must stop playing politics with people’s lives,” says Chelsea Sachau, Managing Attorney of the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project’s Border Action Team. “Over the past two years, I’ve personally spoken with people who were kidnapped and beaten, people who were raped, and people who suffered other violence and threats because of being displaced at the border under Title 42. I’ve spoken with a mother who first sought protection in the U.S. with her son three years prior but was told her claim was ‘non-meritorious’ and deported; she returned to show me photos of her son’s charred body, now only identifiable by his DNA. On a weekly basis, I speak with people whose bodies bear the physical scars of the persecution they’ve endured; our conversations reveal their emotional scars run even deeper. When I say ‘we must stop playing politics with people’s lives,’ it is because my team and I bear witness to the very real, life-threatening circumstances that my clients face when they remain displaced in and discarded to danger.”
We have long-known that the previous administration used the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to achieve their ultimate goal of fully blocking access to asylum in the U.S. Every day that the Biden administration has kept this policy in place since they took office is a moral failure. A humane, safe, and dignified roll-back of Title 42 is achievable, and organizations like ours remain ready to make this a reality. Any excuses about governmental confusion or straining of resources are just that, excuses, and any failure on the part of governmental agencies to responsibly work with service providers on the border is not a burden that should be borne by asylum seekers.
Moreover, CBP Commissioner Magnus indicated in a statement on April 4th that his agency is ready and able to process asylum seekers when Title 42 comes to an end. We welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively and productively with CBP and other applicable agencies to welcome asylum seekers to safety with dignity. In fact, immigration legal and humanitarian service providers have long called upon the government to collaborate with and resource them to welcome asylum seekers and support DHS agencies in processing them into the U.S. and out of harm. Sachau echoes this call by saying, “We are ready and able to welcome asylum seekers to the United States immediately, and in a way that respects their dignity and humanity.
Last week, we celebrated with cautious optimism the news that the Biden administration intends to end Title 42 by May 23, 2022. However, we knew then that a long road lay ahead for people displaced at the United States border because we feared that yet another frivolous, politically motivated lawsuit would delay the end of this policy even further. Asylum seekers have already waited far too long for protection. While we fear that this lawsuit will make the road longer and unnecessarily place people in danger indefinitely, we will continue to fight for our clients’ rights to seek protection and safety in the United States no matter what comes.