Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Public Health Experts Urge U.S. Officials to Withdraw Order Enabling Mass Expulsion of Asylum Seekers
The letter is posted on the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health website. The public health expert signatories begin the letter as follows:
"We are public health experts at leading public health schools, medical schools, hospitals, and other institutions across the United States who are working at the forefront of the response to the novel coronavirus. 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, 2020.1 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."
The conclusion reads:
"As the World Health Organization, the U.N. Refugee Agency, and other U.N. agencies have explained, “`here are ways to manage border restrictions in a manner which respects international human rights and refugee protection standards, including the principle of non-refoulement, through quarantine and health checks' and that `our primary focus should be on the preservation of life, regardless of status.' We can – and we must – both safeguard public health and uphold laws requiring the protection of asylum seekers and unaccompanied children." (footnote omitted).