As CDC Eases Mask Guidance, It Must End the Misuse of Title 42

Friday, February 25, 2022

Today the Centers for Disease Control is expected to significantly ease pandemic mask guidelines as the Biden administration enters a new “phase” in the COVID-19 pandemic response. This new guidance and the administration’s shift in strategy from pandemic response to endemic management further calls into question the administration’s continued misuse of Title 42 to block people fleeing danger from seeking asylum in the United States. In response, CGRS joined the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign in issuing the following statement:

“As a public health physician who has spent my entire career working with immigrants and refugees I know that Title 42 keeps nobody safe. Instead, it forces the most vulnerable of people to wait in horrifically dangerous conditions on the other side of the border,” said Dr. Kate Sugarman, family physician and adjunct faculty at Georgetown Law School

“In stark contrast to the CDC’s decision to loosen federal mask-wearing guidance, the agency continues to block and expel families and adults from seeking asylum at our border under the public health policy known as Title 42,” said Melina Roche, #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign Manager. “Epidemiologists and public health experts have long rejected the use of Title 42 as a mitigation tool for COVID-19. #WelcomeWithDignity urges the CDC and Biden administration to follow the science, listen to the experts and end the use of Title 42.” 

“Today’s announcement lays bare the sheer hypocrisy of Biden’s illegal Title 42 policy,” said Kate Jastram, CGRS Director of Policy and Advocacy. “There is no public health rationale for shutting the door to people seeking safety, while giving U.S. citizens and tourists the green light to enjoy restaurants, football games, and music festivals with minimal (or zero) COVID-19 precautions. By treating even vaccinated asylum seekers as a unique public health threat, the administration continues to endanger people fleeing for their lives.”

“President Trump, through Stephen Miller, was able to leverage the world wide pandemic to achieve his nationalist, isolationist objective of dismantling the American system of accepting immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. It is long past time for President Biden to unravel the Trump/Miller agenda and stop using bogus public health excuses to deny people seeking safety an opportunity to petition for asylum in a U.S. court and possibly build a new life in America,” said Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice.

“Loosening mask mandates yet continuing to subject asylum seekers to summary expulsions reinforces the racist, xenophobic message that undergirds Title 42,” said Azadeh Erfani, Senior Policy Analyst at the National Immigrant Justice Center. “There was no justification for returning Black, Brown, and Indigenous people to danger when the prior administration imposed this policy; there is certainly no justification for it now. We continue to call on the CDC and the Biden administration to end the use of Title 42 expulsions and stop weaponizing COVID-19 to ban asylum seekers.”

“Despite its decision today to significantly ease COVID-19 mask guidelines, the CDC continues to weaponize public health to summarily block individuals from their legal right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Kimiko Hirota, policy associate for the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “WRC urges the Biden administration to listen to medical experts and its own CDC officials who have long criticized the rationale for the Title 42 policy and to restore access to asylum at the border, including at ports of entry, using evidence-based public health measures.”

“That the CDC is lifting mask requirements as the Biden administration continues to summarily expel migrants further demonstrates that Title 42 was never about public health, but merely an excuse to turn away families and adults seeking refuge,” stated the Quixote Center. “Since Biden’s inauguration in January 2021, there have been at least 8,705 reports of violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers expelled to Mexico. There is no scientific justification for the harm that this Trump-era policy has caused to thousands of asylum seekers. We call on the Biden administration to rescind Title 42 and restore asylum.”

“With today’s news that the CDC is planning to significantly ease mask requirements, Title 42 is the only pandemic restriction that has not been lifted or even evolved over the course of nearly two years, even as our collective understanding of how to contain the spread of COVID-19 has improved drastically and despite the fact that we know it was implemented for political, not public health, reasons,” said Laura St. John, Legal Director at the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. “Title 42 has caused serious and irreversible harm to thousands of people who are displaced at the border seeking protection in the United States. It has been denounced by many public health experts, including former CDC officials and Physicians for Human Rights. During his campaign, President Biden pledged to end Title 42, yet over a year after taking office, despite major advances in our ability to prevent COVID-19 infections and control the spread of the virus and with all other restrictions relaxed or lifted, Title 42 remains in place. There is no public health justification for this policy, but President Biden has chosen to use it to keep the southern border closed to those seeking protection, putting politics over people. Each day that it continues forces people to survive perilous situations and is a stain on President Biden’s legacy. Once again, we call on the President to immediately end Title 42 and restore access to asylum at the border.”

“The use of Title 42 to expel asylum seekers at the border, under the guise of public health, has caused immeasurable misery. As federal mask wearing guidelines are lifted, the use of Title 42 is even more abhorrent,” said Margaret Cargioli, Managing Attorney of the Cross-Border Initiative (CBI) program at Immigrant Defenders Law Center. “Due to Title 42, vulnerable individuals including women and LGBTQ individuals are stranded at the border, unable to meet their basic food and housing needs while exposed to the dangers of human trafficking and other forms of violence. Other human beings expelled under the policy have met the dark reality of continued persecution, discrimination, or prosecution for attempting to flee to the U.S.. Expelling asylum seekers has never been justified as a public health concern and should end immediately.”

“The Center for Disease Control is about to lift the national mask mandate. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration continues to defend and implement Title 42, a policy that supercharges deportations under the guise of protecting public health,” said Tami Goodlette, RAICES Director of Litigation. “When will the Biden Administration give up this ruse? We’ve said it before, but it’s a point worth repeating. Title 42 is a relic of the Trump era and by continuing it, President Biden is legitimizing a racist and xenophobic policy that is undermining people’s internationally protected right to seek asylum and rejecting asylum seekers en masse, many from Black majority nations including Haiti, to countries still recovering from climate disasters, war and economic crisis. Refusing to end Title 42 now, when the CDC is starting to lift COVID-19 safety protocols, would put a bright spotlight on the Biden Administration’s blatant hypocrisy. RAICES again calls on the Biden Administration to end Title 42 immediately.”

“The CDC’s plans to loosen federal mask mandates contradicts the Biden Administration’s continuation of Trump’s Title 42 policy, which has used the COVID-19 pandemic as pretext to deny hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers their statutory and congressional rights to seek safety in the US,” said Tasha Moro, Communications Director at Justice Action Center. “Rather than continue to stigmatize and endanger people fleeing for their lives, the Biden administration must end Title 42 once and for all, restore asylum, and leave racist and xenophobic Trump era policies in the past.”

“With the pandemic winding down – as evidenced by today’s CDC announcement – there’s no justification to continue employing Title 42 to deny kids and families their basic human right to seek asylum,” said Santiago Mueckay, Advisor for Family and Child Immigration Policy at Save the Children. “We agree with medical experts that this policy was never about public health and the new CDC guidelines make it clear we must adjust the policies issued in response to COVID-19. Title 42 must be immediately terminated.”