The Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Robert Redfield, renewed an order this week that gives border agents the authority to summarily expel migrants, including asylum seekers, at US land borders. Although the order purports to be a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the CDC’s own doctors reportedly found the original decision to halt asylum processes to have no basis in public health.
So far more than 204,000 people have been expelled under the order, typically without being given any screening to ensure they are not returned to potential harm in their home countries. The expulsions have included 8,800 unaccompanied children for whom additional special protections are supposed to apply. Human Rights Watch research shows that the consequences of returning asylum seekers to danger can be catastrophic – resulting in sexual assault, torture, and death.
When Redfield first issued the order effectively closing US borders to vulnerable asylum seekers in March, we wrote to him explaining that asylum seekers have a legitimate reason to enter the United States, that safe detention alternatives exist, and that life or death stakes are involved in returning potential refugees to harm. But his reply failed to address our concerns.
Recent Associated Press reporting and our own discussions with a senior CDC official who asked to remain anonymous have made clear that the CDC’s order is not about public health, but rather a response to political pressure.
In a press conference held Wednesday, Mark Morgan, the senior official performing the duties of the commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), repeated the now-disproved claim that the Title 42 expulsion order is “a public health directive that directed CBP from a public health perspective...” and refused to give any concrete information about when the order could be lifted. Morgan said the CDC would determine when it was time to end the expulsions.
Director Redfield should immediately rescind the Title 42 expulsion order before more damage is done to the credibility of the CDC and an even greater number of possible asylum seekers, including children, are returned to serious danger not only to their health, but their lives.