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The organizations said the agreement was to help until July 31, when the administration was expected to lift restrictions on Title 42, which was named after a Public Health Act of 1944. But the groups said they had not received any news about it.
“The government has not given any justification for keeping Title 42, so we do not want to support a system that violates international human rights,” said Bill Swersey, a HIAS spokesman.
HIAS, the withdrawal of which was first reported by CNN, said it would work with the government until Aug. 31 to give time to complete the work it had begun. The group said they had assisted 4,842 asylum seekers by July 23.
The International Rescue Committee said it had helped 1,070 migrants as of July 27 and estimates the number will climb to 1,500 as it handles the last few cases. It led the consortium’s effort in Nogales, Arizona, and its work will end on Saturday.
“The reason the IRC agreed to participate in the first place was because we recognized the border humanitarian crisis due to the backlog of cases,” said Meghan Lopez, the group’s regional vice president for Latin America.
But public health exemptions were never intended to become the long-term solution. She said Title 42 does not protect public health as asylum seekers must be tested for the coronavirus before entering the United States and the directive forces thousands of people to be stuck in dangerous Mexican border towns, putting them further at risk.
“We want Title 42 to end,” said Lopez. “We believe that people should apply for asylum as a right given to them under national and international law.”
The Homeland Security Department said in a statement Friday that its relationship with non-governmental organizations is “fluid” and that the humanitarian exceptions are to safely process people in its “phased approach to rebuilding our nation’s immigration system.”
However, the government has stepped up efforts to get Central American families on a swift route to deportation if they are apprehended at the border and not pleading fear of persecution, which has alienated asylum advocates. Homeland Security said Friday it has resumed deportation flights to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for families under “expedited deportation,” a legal measure designed to remove people from the country without seeing an immigration judge.
Meanwhile, HIAS has been leading the effort in El Paso, Texas, since early May and recently expanded to San Diego, according to Ursela Ojeda, policy advisor to the Women’s Refugee Commission who has been watching developments.
“This is a process that should never have happened in the first place,” said Ojeda. “There are certainly many people who are stuck in Mexico, migrants and asylum seekers with no possibility of seeking protection.”
The American Civil Liberties Union follows a similar but separate path, forwarding inquiries from stakeholders along the border for up to 35 families per day. The ACLU announced in May that approximately 2,000 people had been admitted to settle a lawsuit against the government. ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said the Biden administration would not allow a newer figure to be published.
“The exemption process was crucial for desperate families, but it was never intended as a substitute for terminating Title 42, nor could a limited exemption process run by NGOs ever be an adequate substitute for a legal asylum process,” Gelernt said on Friday.