Kristin Kumpf is the director of migration for the American Friends Service
Committee and co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s asylum team.

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The Public Health Code Separating Families at the Border

by Kristin Kumpf 12-26-2022
While countermeasures will attempt to keep Title 42 in place, we have witnessed the power of advocates to effectively hold our government accountable.
Faded silhouetted illustrations of people against a gray backdrop, who are walking with children and bags in hand.

LenLis / iStock

I KNEW ALMOST immediately it was bad news.

“Maria was separated at the border from her auntie,” my friend said in a phone call. “We don’t know where she is. Her auntie was sent back to Mexico and we think is being held by a drug cartel. They separated them under Title 42.”

I felt sick. Four-year-old Maria (not her real name) and her aunt were fleeing violent circumstances. They arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border to exercise their legal right — protected by both international and U.S. law — to request asylum, as other members of Maria’s family had done prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, everything changed. The Trump administration, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), invoked a rarely used subsection of public health code called Title 42 to close U.S. borders to asylum seekers and unaccompanied children under the guise of preventing the spread of COVID-19. It made that decision against the advice of many public health experts, including some within the CDC, who agreed there was no public health rationale for a ban on asylum seekers as a group. Though the border remained open to truckers, temporary workers, students, and others, border agents turned back asylum seekers to Mexico or their home country.