Since President Biden took office, there have been at least 6,356 attacks against people whom the US had expelled to Mexico or blocked at ports of entry, according to data released August 24. The attacks—which include rape, torture, robberies and assaults—disproportionately affect people fleeing drug-war violence. The numbers are likely to rise under Biden’s extension of what is technically a public health measure: Title 42.
The real purpose of Title 42 is to close the southern US border. The program allows border agents to expel migrants back to their home country—primarily Mexico—in the name of “prevent[ing] the spread of communicable diseases.” That includes refugees seeking their legal right to asylum.
“The majority of people fleeing parts of Mexico are fleeing drug-war violence.”
Biden criticized the policy while on the campaign trail. Yet on August 2, his administration extended it indefinitely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will review it every 60 days. The US has used Title 42, first instituted in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took off, to send back nearly 950,000 people.
“The majority of people fleeing parts of Mexico are fleeing drug-war violence,” Hollie Webb, lead attorney for the Border Rights Project at Al Otro Lado, told Filter. “That’s one of the things Title 42 is doing. It’s putting people directly at harm that’s caused by the drug war.”
In July 2021 alone, over 200,000 people tried to cross the border. In response to Biden’s extension, organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union are continuing a court case alleging the program is illegal.
“We have the ability to facilitate the movement of people who have an urgent need to get out of the situation they are in, whatever that might be,” John-Michael Torres, communications director at La Unión del Pueblo Entero, which supports people at the border, told Filter. “Our orientation toward migration at a federal level is to criminalize and cage people for as long as we can get away with it, and deport people as quickly as possible.”
Having created the conditions that forced people to flee, the US now refuses them asylum.
Drug-war violence has been widespread in Mexico since 2006, when US President George W. Bush helped to pressure Mexico’s then-President Felipe Calderón to militarize the country’s response to drug trafficking. The US-financed Mérida Initiative escalated crackdowns, and homicide rates escalated with them.
As pressure increased, trafficking organizations relocated across Central America, with the ensuing violence driving migration. Having created the conditions that forced people to flee, the US now refuses them asylum.
A viral video in April showed 10-year-old Wilton Obregón crying while asking a Border Patrol officer for help, but without showing the context. Obregón and his mother had fled Nicaragua and crossed the US border—but were immediately sent back to Mexico. Hours later, they were kidnapped. Obregón’s uncle could only afford half the ransom fee, so the kidnappers released only him. They left him at the border, alone. He was crying because the kidnappers still had his mother.
“It’s egregious to send people back into the exact situations they were fleeing from and they risked their lives to come here for,” Webb said.
Title 42 has drawn public frustration from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who has appealed to the Biden administration 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.”
Photograph via United States Customs and Border Protection