Top UN refugee official calls on US to end pandemic asylum restrictions

Top UN refugee official calls on US to end pandemic asylum restrictions
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The top United Nations official for refugees on Thursday called on the U.S. government to rescind restrictions on asylum put in place during the pandemic.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi in a statement said the United States should do away with Title 42, an interpretation of immigration law and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline that allows border officials to quickly expel migrants crossing the border, including asylum-seekers.  

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"The Title 42 order has resulted in the expulsions of hundreds of thousands of people to Mexico or their countries of origin, denying their access to asylum procedures," wrote Grandi, in a rare rebuke of U.S. domestic policy. 

"Guaranteed access to safe territory and the prohibition of pushbacks of asylum-seekers are core precepts of the 1951 Refugee Convention and refugee law, which governments are required to uphold to protect the rights and lives of refugees. The expulsions have also had serious humanitarian consequences in northern Mexico," added Grandi.

Title 42 has been a main source of activist criticism against the Biden administration, as Title 42 was implemented by the Trump administration at the beginning of the pandemic, in a move that many saw as motivated by an animus to reduce immigration, rather than sanitary precautions. 

Still, the Biden administration has refused to fully do away with Title 42, only easing its application against unaccompanied minors. 

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Department of Homeland Security officials have said maintaining Title 42 is necessary to avoid putting federal officers at risk of coronavirus contagion.

But border officials regularly engage with certain migrants while implementing Title 42, sometimes for weeks at a time. 

Haitians who present at the U.S.-Mexico border, for instance, are generally denied the opportunity to claim asylum, detained for weeks and repatriated on U.S. government flights to Haiti under Title 42.

"We at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, have maintained since the start of the pandemic that protecting public health and protecting access to asylum, a fundamental human right, are fully compatible," wrote Grandi. 

"At the height of the public health emergency, many countries put in place protocols such as health screening, testing and quarantine measures, to simultaneously protect both public health and the right to seek asylum," he added.