Inhumane migration policies endanger lives at the US-Mexico border

Amid freezing temperatures, some 18,000 people are stranded along Mexico's northern border

A man walks through the "Senda de Vida" migrant shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, at the US southern border. Hundreds of families relocated to this shelter in May 2022 after a camp that had formed in a public plaza was evacuated and cleared away. At the time, two thousand people were living in the camp, including hundreds of children.

Mexico 2022 © Yael Martínez/Magnum

The continuation and expansion of the United States' harmful Title 42 policy is causing a humanitarian crisis along the US-Mexico border, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Friday. For nearly three years now, the US has been using Title 42 to rapidly expel asylum seekers on the false basis of protecting public health.

Thousands of people in Mexico are facing extreme weather, lack of shelter, and insufficient access to food and water, said MSF, which is providing health care and mental health support to affected migrants in Reynosa, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, and Piedras Negras. MSF runs programs along migration routes in Mexico and Central America. In Piedras Negras, our teams have also witnessed arrests and harassment of migrants. 

“In recent days, migrants have faced freezing temperatures, exacerbating already difficult conditions for the nearly 18,000 people currently stranded at the northern border,” said Marcos Tamariz, MSF deputy head of mission for Mexico and Central America. “The vast majority of people faced these extreme temperatures with nothing more than a blanket, cardboard, plastic, or tents.”

In addition to medical, mental health, and social support consultations, MSF has donated blankets and hygiene kits at various points along Mexico's northern border.

"During our consultation, one patient told me that in the camp, the children did not stop crying all night,” said Lourdes Ceballos, MSF's mobile activities manager in Matamoros. “It was very cold, and they could not warm themselves.” In Matamoros, at least 8,000 people are sleeping outside. “Another told me that she had thought that the migration through the Darien jungle was the cruelest thing she had ever experienced until she had to endure the cold at night under a bridge."

In recent years, the number of people migrating to the United States in search of safety and security has reached unprecedented levels. In fiscal year 2022, US border authorities apprehended migrants more than 2.2 million times. Around one million of those apprehensions resulted in expulsion under Title 42. This policy, first invoked in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, has been misused by both the Trump and Biden administrations to essentially shut down regular asylum processing at the US southern border.

Although Title 42 was scheduled to be terminated in late December, it remains in place following a decision by the US Supreme Court. A few days following the Supreme Court order, the Biden administration decided to expand Title 42 and apply it to Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Cubans, who were not previously subject to immediate expulsion to Mexico.

Simultaneously, the US government announced a parole program for persons of these nationalities. This is a limited and discriminatory initiative that cannot adequately replace regular asylum processing at the border. Expanding safe pathways for migrants and asylum seekers is crucial, but access to safety should not depend on the nationality of those seeking safety, their ties to sponsors in the US, their ability to travel by air, or their legal status in a third country.

While these decisions are being made at the highest levels of power, the reality that migrants are facing is distressing. MSF teams working on the northern border of Mexico continue to witness the suffering caused by these inhumane policies.

“This crisis demands a coordinated response and greater involvement of federal, state, and local agencies to address these emergencies,” said Tamariz. “Policies such as Title 42 and similar binational agreements [put] extraordinary strain on towns and cities that do not have the resources needed to deal with crises of this magnitude. The implementation of these decisions jeopardizes the dignity, well-being, and safety that people have been seeking since they fled their home countries.”