US public health experts call for end to COVID-19 deportations
A group of more than 30 leading US public health experts have called on the Trump administration to withdraw an order than enables the mass deportation of asylum seekers under emergency provision of the nations’ COVID-19 response.
An open letter, signed by the public health leaders who are in the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic, says that the order puts at risk the lives of adults, families, and unaccompanied children seeking asylum and other protection.
Addressed to Alex Azar, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Robert Redfield, MD, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it says public health laws should not be used as a pretext for overriding humanitarian laws and treaties that provide life-saving protections to refugees seeking asylum and unaccompanied children.
Many young lone asylum seekers, some just 10-years-old, have been crossing the Rio Grande River into Texas, fleeing crime gangs and poverty in Central America.
Under US law they would normally be allowed to live with relatives while their cases wend their way through immigration courts.
Instead the Trump administration is quickly expelling them under an emergency declaration citing the coronavirus pandemic, with 600 minors expelled in April alone.
The expulsions are the latest administration measure aimed at preventing the entry of migrant children, following other programs such as the since-rescinded “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in thousands of family separations.
The open letter says: “We recognize that extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures to keep us all safe and healthy. However, we are gravely concerned that the current administration is using the imprimatur of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to circumvent laws and treaty protections designed to save lives and enable the mass expulsion of asylum seekers and unaccompanied children through an order first issued on March 20, 2020. The CDC order is based on specious justifications and fails to protect public health”.
“We urge the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withdraw – not extend or expand indefinitely – this policy and instead direct U.S. officials to use rational, evidence-based public health measures to safeguard both the health of the public and the lives of adults, families, and unaccompanied children seeking asylum and other protection.
“The nation’s public health laws should not be used as a pretext for overriding humanitarian laws and treaties that provide life-saving protections to refugees seeking asylum and unaccompanied children,” it says.
The letter implies the deportations are political with no public health rationale backing them up.
“The order focuses on non-citizens who lack documentation and arrive by land. It exempts permanent residents and US citizens, and does not apply to tourists arriving by plane or ship – even though these modes of transportation are explicitly listed by HHS as congregate settings with higher risk of disease transmission than land travel.
“A travel restriction issued the same day as the CDC order similarly provides broad exceptions for travel related to education, trade, and commerce. The rule is thus being used to target certain classes of noncitizens rather than to protect public health,” the letter says.
It says that rather than imposing a ban or suspension on people seeking protection from harm, U.S. authorities should use evidence-based public health measures to process asylum seekers and other persons crossing the US border.
“Asylum seekers and migrants should not be discriminated against due to their immigration status or displacement and should not be subjected to more stringent health restrictions at the border than other persons. We urge you to rescind this order and instead advise US government counterparts to implement the following measures, which are grounded in the best available public health guidance,” the letter says.
The signees come from some of America’s leading universities and hospitals, including The Harvard School of Public Health, the John Hopkins School of Public Health, Columbia University and the University of Southern California.