Rescind the recently extended order “suspending introduction of certain persons from countries where a communicable disease exists”
Robert R. Redfield, MD
Doctors for America is joining with Migrant Clinicians Network, Refugee Health Alliance, Human Impact Partners and Physicians for Human Rights to demand that Robert R. Redfield, MD, the Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immediately rescind the recently extended order “suspending introduction of certain persons from countries where a communicable disease exists” (Order pursuant to §§ 362 and 365 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 265, 268) to May 20, 2020. The decision to halt asylum processes “to protect the public health” is not based on evidence or science. In fact, this order directly endangers tens of thousands of lives and threatens to amplify dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia.
Robert R. Redfield, MD
From: [Your Name]
We write as health care workers, public health leaders, and scientists to demand that you immediately rescind the recently extended order “suspending introduction of certain persons from countries where a communicable disease exists” (Order pursuant to §§ 362 and 365 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 265, 268) to May 20, 2020. The decision to halt asylum processes “to protect the public health” is not based on evidence or science. In fact, this order directly endangers tens of thousands of lives and threatens to amplify dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia.
The pandemic of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19 and has claimed more than 184,000 lives world-wide, already has a stronghold within the United States borders. Since March 26, the U.S. has had the highest raw number of confirmed cases in the world, now confirmed at more than 842,000, and, in the top ten countries by number of cases, the U.S. is tied with France and is second only to Spain in number of positive cases relative to population. With current, very limited, testing, 0.24% of the U.S. population is positive for the virus. In Canada 0.1% of the population is confirmed positive; in Mexico 0.007% is positive. To suggest that admitting immigrants and asylees from border countries is putting the U.S. population at particular risk of infection and worsening spread is ignoring the data and hazards the impression that a public health agency is executing a political agenda.
Instead, the implementation of this order is directly endangering the lives of many tens of thousands of asylum seekers and others globally. Asylum seekers deported to the very situations they were fleeing are at risk of murder, assault, kidnapping, and rape, a circumstance entirely attributable to the Orwellian ‘Migrant Protection Protocols.’ Asylum seekers whose trauma from their countries of origin and in transit has been further amplified by the profound dehumanization and deprivations of this policy resulting in extreme functional impairment and suicides. Asylum seekers with little alternative but to stay in crowded open air encampments with increasingly insecure access to basic needs. Asylum seekers who face denial of medical exemption from the inhumane policy that placed them in ‘Do Not Travel’ states in Mexico, as they present for weeks on end with multiple physicians with enterocutaneous fistulas, status epilepticus, and sepsis, only to submit to the mercy of the (non-medical) port authority. Asylum seekers infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the egregiously overcrowded and unprepared immigration detention complex exported to Guatemala in chains to contribute to global dissemination of this disease. Barring asylum seekers from their right to seek safety in the U.S. endangers their health and the public health of the entire region.
Further, the restrictions on asylum imposed by this order is a violation of international law. Legal guidance issued by the U.N. Refugee Agency (“UNHCR”), on asylum protections in the COVID-19 pandemic, makes clear that the U.S. may not put in place measures that categorically deny people seeking protection an effective opportunity to ask for asylum. Expelling refugees to countries where their lives or freedom are at risk, or transferring them to countries where they cannot find effective refugee protection, violates U.S. obligations under the Refugee Convention, its Protocol and the Convention Against Torture.
As a virologist, you must know that the best way to control COVID-19 spread is through physical distancing, sheltering in place, contact tracing, and adequate personal protective equipment. While restrictions on nonessential travel are reasonable, the essential travel of seeking asylum is not known to accelerate viral spread.
Asylum seekers should be allowed to follow the same guidelines those of us in the U.S. are being asked to follow. Rather than face the increasing risk of transmission in detention, asylum seekers can be processed quickly at the border and paroled into the U.S., where they can shelter in place with family or close friends while awaiting their legal hearings. Indeed, an October 2019 study of 607 asylum-seekers subject to the Remain in Mexico program found that nearly 92 percent had family or close friends in the U.S.
An order that violates existing law, endangers the lives of migrants seeking refuge, and does not use epidemiological data to protect public health or human life, does not have a place in U.S. health policy, during a pandemic or otherwise.
We thus join together in demanding that you take action to immediately rescind this order and institute policy that allows migrants to enter the country and to safely await asylum hearings in the homes of their family members. We urge you to reinstate immigration processing in the time of this pandemic. The U.S. can effectively and safely respond to the needs of immigrants during the novel coronavirus pandemic in ways that uphold our obligation to international refugee law. Public health decisions related to the pandemic should be designed to save lives and should be guided by scientific expertise, compassion, and respect for human rights.
Doctors for America
Migrant Clinicians Network
Refugee Health Alliance
Human Impact Partners
Physicians for Human Rights