One year later, Biden administration fails to build a safe and humane migration policy

Title 42 and “Remain in Mexico” still used to turn back people seeking protection

New York, January 19, 2022—One year since US President Joe Biden took office promising to build a fair, safe, and humane immigration system, his administration has instead continued or expanded some of the most harmful Trump-era policies preventing people from seeking asylum at the southern US border, said Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today. The Biden administration has carried out close to one million expulsions under Title 42 over the past year, including tens of thousands of vulnerable people turned away without due process. Following its reinstatement of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) in December, the Biden administration has already started sending asylum seekers to dangerous areas of Mexico to await their asylum hearings.

President Biden’s betrayal of his stated commitments puts people’s lives and health at risk, said the international medical humanitarian organization, which has been treating people on the move along the migration route through Central America and Mexico to the United States since 2012.

“President Biden has broken his promises to manage migration in a way that treats people fairly and humanely,” said Avril Benoît, executive director of MSF in the United States. “Every day our teams in Mexico see more people suffering as a result of these broken promises. We continue to witness the threats that asylum seekers and migrants face in Mexico, their constant exposure to violence and trauma, and their lack of access to shelter and basic services.”

Many of MSF’s patients have been affected by two of the most harmful migration policies implemented in recent years: Title 42 and the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), commonly known as “Remain in Mexico.”

Dire humanitarian situation in the migrant population in Mexico

In Plaza de la República in Reynosa, northeastern Mexico, more than 2,000 people from the Northern Triangle of Central America are living in deplorable conditions after being expelled from the United States when they were seeking protection. Mexico 2021 © MSF/Esteban Montaño

Title 42 is a public health order originally invoked by the Trump administration, using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to effectively close the border to asylum seekers. Since the policy was introduced in March 2020, it has been used to authorize over 1.45 million expulsions from the US—nearly one million of them between February and December 2021 on the Biden administration’s watch.

People seeking asylum have been sent back to Mexico or to their countries of origin to once again face the same dangers they fled. MSF and numerous medical experts have repeatedly pointed out that there is no legitimate public health justification for turning away vulnerable people and sending them back into harm’s way. The Biden administration has expelled an estimated 16,000 Haitians under Title 42, ignoring the fact that their home country is experiencing massive political upheaval and some of the worst violence in decades, said Benoît.

Although it was ordered to reinstate MPP by a federal court last year, the Biden administration has chosen to broaden the policy beyond its original scope and apply it to asylum seekers from any country in the Western Hemisphere, including Haiti.

President Biden was absolutely right when he said that ‘Remain in Mexico’ is dangerous and inhumane and must be ended,” said Benoît. “It’s outrageous that the administration has instead expanded the reach of this cruel policy.”

In several cities along Mexico's northern border, MSF teams offer medical care, psychosocial support, clean water, and basic services to people who are trapped in miserable conditions.

In 2021, MSF conducted more than 29,000 medical, mental health, and social work consultations for people on the move in Mexico. In more than 6,000 mental health consultations, MSF teams worked with people dealing with generalized anxiety, depression, acute anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder from the violence endured in their home countries and along the migration route.

“People continue to languish in makeshift camps awaiting their immigration hearings or with no clear path forward,” said Rodd Gerstenhaber, MSF head of mission for Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. “Many of our patients tell us they braved this treacherous journey only because they were scared for their lives in their home country. For them, going back is not an option.”

Dire humanitarian situation in the migrant population in Mexico

An MSF medic treats a migrant with a foot injury. MSF provides primary health and mental health services, as well as support in providing clean water for the population in the Plaza de la Republica. Mexico 2021 © MSF/Esteban Montaño

In 2021, in Mexico City, where MSF runs a center for victims of extreme violence and torture offering medical and mental health care and social service support, close to 60 percent of 1,638 medical consultations conducted benefited women. Also in Mexico City, close to 800 of the 1,019 people referred by MSF to local social services were migrants from Haiti.

“These policies are cloaked in the language of protecting public health and protecting migrants, but in fact put people in more danger,” said Gemma Domínguez, general coordinator in Mexico. “Every day our teams in Mexico see the human consequences of these unacceptable policies of deterrence."

MSF repeats its call to the Biden administration to make good on its promises to build a humane immigration and asylum system that protects the lives and health of people forced from home. There is no excuse for continuing to misuse the Title 42 order to turn away asylum seekers and block their right to seek protection; this administration must rescind this order immediately.

Administration officials have publicly acknowledged the terrible toll of MPP, stating that the policy imposed “substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.” Given this grim reality, the Biden administration must now do everything in its power to end this policy.

“MPP and Title 42 are fundamentally xenophobic policies that were designed to inflict suffering on people seeking asylum in the United States and deter others from even trying to get protection here,” said Benoît. “The Biden administration has the power to end much of this suffering but has chosen not to. We call on the Biden administration to respect that seeking safety is not a crime and urgently begin the work of creating the humane asylum system it promised.”