Few migrants treated under Title 42 border policy are screened for U.S. protection


Out of of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have been treated under a pandemic policy at the southern border, just over 3,200 asylum seekers have been screened for US humanitarian protection, unpublished government data obtained shows by CBS News.

Since March 2020, US authorities along the border with Mexico have used a public health authority known as Title 42 to quickly deport migrants over 1,163,000 times without allowing them to see an immigration judge or asylum officer, according to figures from Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

At the end of September, only 3,217 migrants treated under the Public Health Act were referred for interviews with U.S. asylum officials, who are accused of enforcing humanitarian laws designed to prevent the government from returning people to the United States. places where they could be injured.

These migrants have undergone more difficult checks than traditional asylum interviews. They must prove that they are “more likely than not” to be tortured if deported, which would qualify them as asylum under the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory .

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not respond to questions about how it determines who is allowed to speak to an asylum officer. According to internal policy, migrants in Title 42 proceedings must make a “spontaneous and reasonably credible claim” that they fear torture in order to be checked.

Only 272 – or 8% – of the 3,217 asylum seekers passed their interviews, according to data from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The Convention Against Torture interviews are the only exams available to people treated under Title 42, which prohibits migrants from seeking asylum.

New statistics show implementation of Title 42 inconsistent with U.S. and international refugee laws, which were created in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust to ensure countries don’t deport summarily people without determining whether they could be persecuted in the event of return.

“This is very disturbing and alarming. Migrants are prevented from exercising a basic human right, which is to seek asylum,” Michael Knowles, president of a union representing hundreds of officers, told CBS News. of the US government responsible for asylum and refugees. “Because of the way this policy is conducted, our officers are prevented from fulfilling their mission, which is to ensure that asylum seekers have a fair hearing and are treated humanely.”

A border patrol officer treats a group of migrants in Sunland Park, New Mexico, July 22, 2021.

PAUL RATJE / AFP via Getty Images

Like the Trump administration, the Biden administration has argued that it can suspend these legal obligations by invoking Title 42 during a public health emergency. Citing concerns about the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, the Biden administration said border deportations will continue indefinitely.

Even senior officials in the Biden administration, such as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, have said they would not support Title 42 if it was an “immigration policy.” In an interview this week, Mayorkas said he understood the circumstances of the deportees, citing a recent visit to the Texas border.

“It’s a heartbreaking thing to see. I don’t need anyone to share words to explain to me what this grief is and what it means,” Mayorkas told Yahoo News. “But this is what is needed as a public health imperative, as ordered by the Centers for Disease Control.”

In President Biden’s first seven months in office, U.S. customs officials carried out 704,000 deportations, 92,000 which has led to turning away parents and children traveling as a family, according to a CBS News analysis of government data. The Trump administration carried out 400,000 deportations.

Public health experts, United Nations advocates, former Biden administration officials and Democratic lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have denounced Title 42 as an illegal policy adopted under the guise of the public health. Three federal judges also concluded the policy is probably illegal.

In November 2020, CBS News reported that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were pressured to allow evictions by those appointed by the Trump administration, even though they did not believe there was a sufficient public health base for such a drastic measure.

The CDC did not respond to questions about public health conditions that would prompt the agency to reverse its title 42 edict. A former senior DHS official called the rationale for the evictions “troubling.”

“I don’t think Headline 42 is being used fairly,” the official, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, told CBS News. “This suggests that the most threatening infection vectors are crossing the southwest border. We would have seen graphics. You would have had graphics on the Evening News showing this, if that were true.”

When asked about Title 42 recently, Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to Mr Biden, said: “Focusing on immigrants, deporting them or whatever, is not the solution to an epidemic.”

As Democrats’ anger over Title 42 recently escalated over the mass deportation of 7,000 Haitians in three weeks, Republican lawmakers sharply criticized the Biden administration for failing to deport all migrants and applicants. asylum.

Most single adult migrants continue to be deported. But the Biden administration exempted unaccompanied children from Title 42 in February and treated most families with children under immigration law, largely because Mexico refused to accept young minors. non-Mexican.

In the first seven months of the Biden administration, 541,000 migrants were treated under US immigration laws, which allow them to seek asylum. Migrants who are not deported are either detained or released in the United States with a notice to appear in immigration court.

“Failure to keep its promise to expel or return migrants promptly will only further convince them, and the smugglers’ organizations that exploit them, that the Biden administration is not serious in enforcing our laws on immigration to the southwest border, “the Republican senators wrote in a letter. in Mayorkas this month.

The Biden administration now finds itself struggling a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which seeks to end deportations of families with children, while trying to derail a lawsuit in Texas that would force it to deport unaccompanied minors.

Lee Gelernt, a lawyer leading the ACLU trial, criticized the Biden administration for continuing to prevent migrants from seeking asylum, even though he plans in November to lift travel restrictions at “non-essential” borders for vaccinated travelers seeking to enter the United States for tourism and family visits.

“Unlike non-essential travel, there is a legal and moral obligation to provide hearings for asylum seekers,” Gelernt told CBS News.

Asked how the continuation of Trump-era deportations aligns with Mr. Biden’s promise to restore U.S. asylum laws, Tyler Moran, Mr. Biden’s senior migration adviser, said the title 42 was not part of an “immigration enforcement strategy”, noting that the measure would not apply. t be “in place forever”.

Moran said the administration was focused on creating legal avenues for immigrants to come to the United States as refugees or visa holders, rather than entering the country illegally, and on establishing a border policy that allows those fleeing violence to find refuge, while quickly deporting migrants who don’t qualify for American sanctuary.

Comparing the Biden administration’s border policies to the practices of the Trump era, as some progressive supporters did, is “ludicrous,” Moran said in an interview.

“The Trump administration fired tear gas at people. They intentionally took children away from their parents. They intentionally made sure there was no due process in the system. It was a policy of cruelty and fear, ”Moran added. “We don’t do that.”