Washington, DC – Migration advocates in the United States are urging an international human rights commission to demand the Biden administration end the use of Title 42, a public health directive that allows the US to immediately expel most migrants who arrive at its borders.
The Lowenstein Project at Yale Law School submitted an emergency request (PDF) on Thursday to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an arm of the Organisation of American States tasked with upholding human rights in the Americas.
The request for “precautionary measures” was filed on behalf of 31 asylum seekers who had been expelled from the US, or have not tried to enter the country, as a result of Title 42, a policy that the petitioners argue exposes asylum seekers to “serious and urgent threats”.
The rights groups named in the petition, which include Haitian Bridge Alliance, Human Rights First, and Al Otro Lado, are calling for the migrants to be allowed to claim asylum in the US – and for the policy to be rescinded.
“What we’re urging the Commission to do is to ask the United States government to stop this process, to stop barring the entry of these individuals and others,” James Cavallaro, a former president of the IACHR and a petitioner, told reporters on Thursday.
Cavallaro added that Title 42, under which most migrants are unable to file asylum claims in the US, is exposing people to “severe and urgent risks to their lives, to their wellbeing [and] to their physical integrity”.
Pressure on Biden
According to the IACHR website, “a precautionary measure is a protection mechanism” through which the commission “requests a State to protect one or more persons who are in a serious and urgent situation from suffering irreparable harm”.
The petition adds further pressure on the administration of Joe Biden, who has struggled to deal with a surge in the number of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border after fleeing poverty, violence and climate change-fuelled disasters in their home countries.
Title 42 was first invoked in March 2020 by former President Donald Trump, whose administration pursued harsh, anti-immigration policies, to allow US immigration officers to quickly deport asylum seekers who arrive at the US-Mexico border.
The measure cites the need to protect the country from the further spread of COVID-19, but rights groups said it is a guise to keep asylum seekers out – and they have repeatedly called on the Biden administration to revoke it. Yet while Biden exempted children travelling alone from Title 42 removals, he has kept the policy in place.
The IACHR petition nevertheless came amid various attempts to end the use of Title 42.
In a recent case, rights groups said the rule should not apply to families with children. Although a court on September 16 ruled in their favour, the Biden administration appealed the decision and a federal appeals court judge on September 30 said the administration can keep expelling families.
Tami Goodlette, director of litigation at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), one of the IACHR petitioners, said the Biden administration is fighting to keep in place a rule that violates international and US laws.
“The Biden administration is acting in a horrific manner to reject our laws, reject international norms and expel people from our country and prevent people from seeking asylum,” Goodlette said.
‘I am afraid’
Asylum seekers from El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, and Yemen are listed on Thursday’s petition.
One said that while she wants to seek asylum in the US, she fears what might happen at the border. “I am afraid that if we go to a port of entry or even cross the border we would be immediately deported and killed,” the woman, identified only by the initials TBC, said during the call with reporters on Thursday.
The 22-year-old, who is gay, said she fled Jamaica in August with her partner, a 23-year-old identified as SAF, who is also on the petition, after being subjected to threats and violence over her sexual orientation.
Since then, the couple has been staying at a shelter in the Mexican border town of Tijuana, waiting for an opportunity to claim asylum in the US. “We are also not safe here in Mexico and we are stranded here. We face discrimination in Mexico and fear violence both because of the colour of our skin and because we are lesbians,” TBC said.
Title 42 expulsions
The petition also came after desperate scenes along the US-Mexico border, and the subsequent expulsions of thousands of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers, drew widespread criticism.
Last month, nearly 15,000 Haitian migrants, including many children, camped under a bridge in Texas in hopes of claiming asylum, after crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico.
The US responded by quickly detaining and expelling thousands to their crisis-hit home country under Title 42, while thousands of others, fearing deportation, went back to Mexico. Rights organisations that have been monitoring deportation flights say the US has expelled more than 7,000 Haitians on board 70 flights since September 19.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Mexico deported 129 Haitians to the capital Port-au-Prince, the second such flight. A week ago, the Mexican authorities deported 70 Haitians, including children, in a move it called “voluntary return”.
A video circulated on social media late on Wednesday appeared to show a man jumping off the stairs to the flight to Port-au-Prince, before being chased by Mexican authorities. “Is this what the Mexican government is calling ‘voluntary’ returns?” Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, asked on Twitter.
In this video, a man jumps off the stairs and runs across the tarmac, chased by Mexican immigration agents, as he flees from the plane that will send him back to Haiti.
Is this what the Mexican government is calling "voluntary" returns?
— José Miguel Vivanco (@JMVivancoHRW) October 7, 2021