On March 20, 2020, the US closed its borders to anyone deemed lacking an “essential” reason to cross the border, like work or reunions with ailing family members.
Those barred from crossing included migrants, many of whom approach the country’s southwest border in the hopes of claiming asylum and reaching safety.
The policy that closed the border to migrants is called Title 42, a public health measure invoked under the Trump administration in the early days of the pandemic, under the auspices of curtailing the spread of the coronavirus.
Two years later, that policy is still in effect and thousands of people are stuck on the Mexico side of the US-Mexico border, living in crowded shelters, on the street, or in otherwise precarious situations.
“We never expected things to be as bad as they have become.”
“We never expected things to be as bad as they have become,” said Kennji Kizuka, a lawyer with Human Rights First.
His organization has been monitoring conditions for asylum-seekers along the US southwest border.
Last week, it released a report that identified nearly 10,000 accounts of kidnapping, torture, rape, and other violent attacks on people waiting in Mexico. The report only covered the time since President Joe Biden has been in office, when he inherited the Title 42 policy from the Trump administration.
“Asylum-seekers, who are turned back to Mexico, are targeted in Mexico for kidnappings for extortion, for attacks, because they’re migrants, because of their race, their gender,” Kizuka said.
Senate Democrats are calling on Biden to fulfill his campaign promise to asylum-seekers, and end Title 42. Now, with the country dropping most COVID-19 restrictions, immigrant advocates say that even the stated reason for the policy no longer makes sense.
Esmeralda Flores is with the ACLU in San Diego, which has organized against Title 42. She said that the Trump administration put the policy in place for a specific reason.
“It is clear that this policy has never been about public health. Senior [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] scientists objected to Title 42 order when it was issued, but the Biden administration is still using it to block people asking for protection, while at the same time, lifting travel restrictions for others.”
“It is clear that this policy has never been about public health. Senior [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] scientists objected to Title 42 order when it was issued, but the Biden administration is still using it to block people asking for protection, while at the same time, lifting travel restrictions for others,” Flores said in a press conference on Friday put together by immigrant service providers in San Diego for the media.
A limited number of asylum-seekers have been able to enter the US at formal crossings. But those are exceptions. Many people are trying to circumvent Title 42 restrictions by jumping the border fence, crossing in remote desert areas or attempting dangerous crossings on boats.
With Title 42 in effect, the California border saw a record number of apprehensions of people crossing the border on boats — almost 2,000 over the past two years. Last May, three migrants died after their boat capsized trying to get around the border fence between Tijuana and San Diego.
Pima County in Arizona said it had identified over 200 skeletal remains in the desert in 2021, many of whom were migrants trying to get around Title 42.
Earlier this month, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, along with other Democratic lawmakers, called on the Biden administration to end Title 42. The White House has until early April to renew the policy.
Kizuka said he believes that the time to act is now.
“Having a process for people to apply for asylum at the US border is part of US law, and it’s part of treaty obligations to refugees that the United States must comply with,” he said. “The Biden administration has now had over a year to restart these asylum processes that they’re required to do under US and international law, so it’s really difficult to understand how the Biden administration is not prepared.”
Protests against Title 42 are planned on Monday in Tijuana, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
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