New York, December 27, 2022 — The International Rescue Committee is concerned that the Supreme Court’s decision to continue Title 42 will prolong the use of public health justifications as an excuse to deny asylum-seekers their legal right to protection in the U.S. Since March 2020, Title 42 has been used to justify nearly 2.5 million expulsions despite U.S. legal obligations under international and domestic law to provide all asylum-seekers the right to seek safety. There is no public health rationale for this policy to continue insofar as international borders have remained mainly open to other travelers for most of the COVID-19 pandemic, and nationally, most pandemic-era restrictions have been rolled back.
The humanitarian issue at the U.S. Southern border has been caused by the lack of a properly funded and functioning asylum system and fair and humane border policies that have impacted those fleeing conflict and persecution, forcing asylum-seekers back into dangerous situations. While private sponsorship programs and humanitarian parole should continue to be options available to people seeking safety in the U.S., they cannot replace a functioning asylum system. The scale of humanitarian needs and global displacement requires international cooperation and funding to guarantee people’s integrity, regardless of their nationality or status. The IRC supports refugees and asylum-seekers throughout their journeys, working in key locations along the arc of displacement. For example, Mexico is a country of origin, of transit, and a potentially safe destination for some displaced people but the shifting and inhumane U.S. border policy landscape has resulted in significant strain throughout the region, including deadlier migration routes. In a needs assessment conducted by the IRC along Mexico’s northern border in 2022, half of the people surveyed reported they had directly experienced a safety issue or crime in Mexico. They identified several risks for their families, including sexual violence (23%), kidnapping (19%), and threats (16%). By effectively continuing to expel asylum-seekers and sending them back to dangers similar to or worse than those they tried to flee, the U.S. only further undermines access to durable, dignified solutions for the displaced.
Ending Title 42 would have been an opportunity for the Biden Administration to build a safe, orderly, and humane process to welcome asylum seekers working alongside local border communities and civil society organizations, who have the expertise and infrastructure to help with humanitarian reception services, providing initial shelter, food, basic medical care, and legal orientation. The IRC calls on the Biden Administration, and state and local governments to stand for the protection of all asylum-seekers and end the border externalization policies that put asylum-seekers at risk.
Kennji Kizuka, Director for Asylum Policy at the IRC said:
“We welcome all the necessary measures the U.S. has taken to help displaced people from Afghanistan and Ukraine, but other crises cannot be neglected. With over a third of a billion people in humanitarian need globally and over 100 million people displaced, the guardrails designed to protect people from humanitarian crises are quickly eroding and the continued undermining of safe, legal pathways to refuge such as the asylum process is not helping.
“For years, Title 42 has deprived thousands of asylum-seekers of due process and sent them back to danger, similar if not worse than they escaped in Mexico, northern Central America, Haiti, and other countries. The U.S. can and should build a safe, orderly, and humane process to welcome asylum seekers, and simultaneously commit and lead regional efforts to address the underlying issues that are causing humanitarian needs and displacement to continue spiraling in the Americas.”
Julio Rank Wright, Regional Vice President for Latin America at the IRC said:
“For a long time, we have seen how border policies like Title 42 only put people who were already in need of protection in further danger. When asylum-seekers from the Americas are expelled from the U.S. to Mexico, they usually arrive in border cities where they encounter risks such as rising violence perpetrated by organized criminal groups and human trafficking. The local communities face these same dangers while also trying to respond to the needs of arriving asylum-seekers.
“Civil society and local communities on both sides of the border have the expertise to help with humanitarian reception services. Their capacity to respond, however, has been overstretched after years of continued expulsions and limited support from the U.S. and the international community. Ending restrictive border measures is essential, but it is also important that the international community increases funding and humanitarian resources for countries of origin and those along the routes that asylum-seekers follow to ensure a protection response that is robust enough to meet the moment.”
The IRC’s Asylum and Protection work in the United States
The IRC provides case management, humanitarian reception, information services, and legal assistance to asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, and other vulnerable people seeking protection in the U.S. In fiscal year 2021, the IRC served nearly 35,000 people through its U.S. Asylum and Protection programming, both with services along the U.S. Mexico border and in cities across the U.S.
The IRC in Latin America
The IRC is responding across the arc of the crisis in Latin America: delivering a population-based response to the Venezuela crisis in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru and through local partners in Venezuela; supporting people at risk in northern Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and along the main migration corridors in Mexico.
Since 2019, the IRC has responded to the humanitarian needs of asylum seekers stuck at the U.S.-Mexico border as a consequence of restrictive policies like Title 42. Currently, the IRC’s programs in Mexico offer a timely and comprehensive response from the southern to the northern border, addressing economic recovery and development; mental health and psychosocial support; child protection; multipurpose cash assistance to meet people’s basic needs; prevention and response to gender-based violence; access to critical information through InfoDigna, a multi-channel information platform; as well as identifying needs and referring cases to local service providers. Additionally, the IRC is supporting local integration efforts by providing cultural orientation to individuals who have chosen to stay in Mexico.