Science

Top CDC scientist says COVID-era health policy used to evacuate migrants unfairly stigmatizes them

The US government’s top public health expert on migration told Congress that he refused to approve a policy allowing mass evictions at the US-Mexico border because he believed the measure was against President Donald Trump. Enacted by and maintained by President Joe Biden, migrants were unfairly stigmatized. COVID-19.

During an interview in May with the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Dr. Marty Setrone called the policy, known as title 42A “wholesale border closure” that suspended migrants’ rights and “risked the abuse of a public health authority,” according to a transcript.

“I was concerned that there might be a motivation that was beyond the typical public health agenda,” Setron said during the closed-door interview, which had not previously been reported.

For more than two decades, Cetron has been director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, which is charged with preventing communicable diseases from entering the US, including screening of immigrants, refugees and includes monitoring. Passenger.

Trump administration aides, including senior adviser Stephen Miller — not the CDC’s public health expert — were involved in the effort to enforce Title 42, a late 19th-century public health law that had only been used once before in American history. Cetron said. Former Senior CDC Officer First described Miller’s role in advancing the eviction. (Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Title 42 was last used in 1929 to prevent ships from bringing passengers from the Philippines and China to US ports during meningitis outbreaks.)

“It did not arise from the CDC,” Citron told congressional investigators, adding that he refused to sign the order to enforce Title 42 because his team had enough public health to justify the move. Evidence not found. “We could not confirm that the threat, quote/quote, was being addressed by it,” he said.

When Cetron learned that the Trump administration would invoke Title 42 to collectively evacuate migrants and asylum seekers, he told then-CDC director Robert Redfield that he wanted an “excuse” from the policy. On March 20, 2020, Redfield signed an order flagging the border clearance, which continues to this day.

According to government data, for more than two years, US officials at the southern border have used Title 42 to quickly evacuate migrants more than 2.2 million times without considering their asylum claims, which are American and international refugees. required under the law.

Venezuelan migrants cross the Rio Bravo between Mexico and the US
Venezuelan migrants cross the Rio Bravo to surrender to US authorities on October 13.

Christian Torres / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images


In its May interview, Cetron said Title 42 had alternative measures, such as quarantining, masking and testing, to ease coronavirus concerns at the border. He said the use of Title 42 could create stigma, citing previous pandemics during which specific groups were scapegoated without “supporting evidence”.

An “epidemic of disease,” Setron said “could be followed by an epidemic—an unreasonable epidemic of stigma and misinterpretation of where the problem lies.”

CBS News and other outlets informed of In 2020 Trump officials pressured the CDC to enforce Title 42, bypassing agency experts. Late last year, Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s second-highest official, Told Congressional Investigator Title 42 was not supported by “the bulk of the evidence”.

Cetron’s internal opposition to Title 42 undermines the CDC’s public defense of the policy, which has been defended by both the Trump and Biden administrations as a pandemic tool designed to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 at border facilities .

But beyond his concerns about a shoddy public health argument and his concerns about the stigma that plagued migrants, Cetron feared that the use of Title 42 could undermine public health, saying it was risky. Is “[l]Leaving minor children alone in camps at the mercy of many other diseases and other consequential health risks.”

Cetron’s interview with Congress reinforces the idea that the Trump administration used the pandemic for political purposes – to slow the flow of migrants to the southern border. But it also raises questions about the politics influencing public health decisions under Mr Biden, who allowed the policy to continue after he pledged to “listen to the science” to fight COVID-19.

CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said the agency would not “comment” on Citron’s statements or whether the Biden administration considered their views on Title 42 as it continues to implement the policy for more than a year. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

While the administration privately defended its use to protect public health, Biden officials see Title 42 as a key immigration control to deal with record migrant arrivals and deter GOP attacks on a chaotic border Biden appointed told CBS News,

“You have this very blunt tool like Title 42. It’s very, very blunt, but you don’t have other options,” said a Biden immigration policy appointee, who did not wish to be named to discuss internal deliberations. Print requested.

america-mexico-latm-immigration-health-virus
Migrants board a US Border Patrol van after crossing from Mexico into the US through a gap in the border wall between Algodones, Mexico and Yuma, Arizona, on May 16, 2022.

Frederick J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images


In May, CDC Director Rochelle Valensky, who issued an order defending Title 42 in August 2021, said that due to the improvement in the pandemic situation, including an increase in vaccination rates in the US and migrants’ home countries, now limit measures are being taken. was not required.

However, Republican-led states convinced a federal judge in Louisiana to block the termination of Title 42, forcing officials to continue with the expulsions. Under Mr Biden, border officials have exempted several groups from Title 42, including lonely children, Ukrainian refugees and some vulnerable asylum seekers.

But the Biden administration continues to expel tens of thousands of monthly, and more recently, Expansion Title 42 to begin evacuating Venezuelan asylum seekers under an agreement with Mexico, which previously only accepted the return of its citizens and Central American migrants.

Lee Gelern, a US Civil Liberties Union attorney asking a federal court to invalidate Title 42, said the US government could implement “less restrictive” coronavirus mitigation steps, “to asylum-seekers”. without requiring the extraordinary step of removing from the grave “danger.”

“We have always believed that Title 42 was not about public health, but an excuse to close the border to asylum seekers,” Gelern told CBS News.

Two former senior CDC officials confirmed Citron’s opposition to Title 42, the original order authorizing migrant evictions, was written by an attorney for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“They weren’t comfortable being any part of it,” a former senior CDC official told CBS News, referring to Citron and his team. “We knew [Trump] The administration and Stephen Miller, in particular, wanted to do this from day one.”

During the pandemic, several HHS lawyers were tasked by the Trump administration with drafting several CDC-related public health orders, including the use of Title 42, according to a former Trump administration official who discussed internal deliberations. Anonymity was requested to discuss. The source said the order also has an inter-agency review process.

On March 20, 2020, an HHS attorney alerted Miller and other Trump administration immigration officials that the CDC was ready to publish a Title 42 order, according to internal emails obtained by American Oversight, a watchdog group. One by one, officials from the White House and the Department of Justice and Homeland Security thanked the HHS lawyer for his “Yemen work.”

“Agree,” Miller replied to the group, emails show.

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