The United Nations is urging the Biden administration to “swiftly” end the Title 42 public health restrictions, which were implemented during the Trump administration in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — and allow for the quick expulsion of migrants who come to the border.
“I appeal to the government of the United States to swiftly lift the public health-related asylum restrictions that remain in effect at the border and to restore access to asylum for the people whose lives depend on it, in line with international legal and human rights obligations,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.
The Trump administration implemented “Title 42” public health restrictions in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The restrictions allow for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border for public health reasons.
While the Biden administration has rolled back a number of Trump-era border protections, it has kept Title 42 largely in place — although crucially it is not removing unaccompanied children and some migrant families. Critics have claimed that has encouraged more children and families to make the dangerous trek to the border.
However, the Biden administration has also faced pressure from activists, who say that the restrictions are cruel and unnecessary. Grandi said he welcomes the administration’s planned reforms to border processes and the Title 42 exemptions for families and children — but called for it to be lifted altogether.
“The Title 42 order has resulted in the expulsions of hundreds of thousands of people to Mexico or their countries of origin, denying their access to asylum procedures,” he argued. “Guaranteed access to safe territory and the prohibition of pushbacks of asylum-seekers are core precepts of the 1951 Refugee Convention and refugee law, which governments are required to uphold to protect the rights and lives of refugees. The expulsions have also had serious humanitarian consequences in northern Mexico.”
He then said that other countries have instead used protocols such as health screenings and quarantine to protect public health while letting in migrants.
“I encourage the US administration to continue its work to strengthen its asylum system and diversify safe pathways so asylum-seekers are not forced to resort to dangerous crossings facilitated by smugglers,” he said.
Supporters of the Title 42 order have warned that scrapping it altogether could lead to an even bigger surge in migrants coming through the border, and many more coming through who are typically rejected.
In April, 178,000 migrants were encountered by officials. Of those encounters, 111,714 migrants were expelled via Title 42.