Zoe, 18-month-old asylum seeking migrant girl from Honduras, cries while being held by her mother Evelyn as she and other migrants await to be transported by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico on a raft in Penitas, Texas, March 15, 2021.
Adrees Latif | Reuters
Roughly 7,600 migrants expelled from the U.S. under a Trump-era pandemic policy have been subject to kidnappings and other attacks since President Joe Biden took office.
This includes migrant families, adults and children who were kidnapped, sex trafficked, extorted or robbed by cartels and Mexican authorities after being deported to Mexico under the policy known as Title 42.
The new data comes from a Human Rights First report released Thursday about the Biden administration’s use of Title 42, which was first implemented by former President Donald Trump at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The policy gives the government the power to turn back any migrant caught crossing the border illegally, namely without a visa or without going through a formal border entry, to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“Over 7,000 attacks is a shocking number but it isn’t surprising that policies like these, which are designed to create order on the border, are ultimately creating additional chaos and and resulting in some really serious harms to migrants that are being returned to Mexico,” said Danilo Zak, senior policy and advocacy associate of National Immigration Forum.
The report is the latest call on the Biden administration to eliminate Title 42, which has been used to address the highest number of migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in two decades.
The report does not address violence that may have occurred to migrants turned back during the Trump administration.
Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security immediately returned requests for comment on the report.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the report during a press briefing Thursday, noting she had not seen it, but adding, “that does sound horrifying, not something that you know we would, you know, agree with or be proud of.”
While Biden has worked to roll back many of his predecessor’s hardline immigration policies, he renewed Title 42 in August after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an updated order justifying its use during the ongoing pandemic.
The CDC’s order said the policy would stay in effect until the border migration of non-U.S. citizens from Mexico and Canada has “ceased to be a serious danger to the public health.”
Migrants expelled from the U.S. and sent back to Mexico under Title 42, walk towards Mexico at the Paso del Norte International border bridge, in this picture taken from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico October 1, 2021.
Jose Luis Gonzalez | Reuters
Since the outset of the pandemic, more than 1 million migrants have been expelled under Title 42, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. More than 690,000 migrants have been expelled through the policy since Biden took office in January.
Human Rights First conducted in person and remote interviews with migrants in Tijuana and other parts of Mexico to track the attacks experienced by those who have been expelled under Title 42.
The report cites several examples of attacks, many of which are carried out by cartels and Mexican immigration officers.
One Honduran woman, for example, was raped and sold to a cartel by Mexican immigration officers after being expelled by the Department of Homeland Security to the city of Juarez, Mexico.
A Salvadoran family was also kidnapped and held captive by a cartel in a storage room for 20 days immediately after the department expelled them to Mexico.
Another woman was robbed of $500 by Mexican immigration officers after she was expelled by the department and returned to Mexico.
Zak said these attacks occur because Title 42 returns migrants to “extremely vulnerable” situations.
They are often returned to Mexico in the middle of the night and are sometimes sent to crime-heavy areas that they are unfamiliar with, which makes them “catnip for cartels,” according to Zak.
“A lot of times, they are sent to places where they become easy targets for things like kidnappings and human trafficking, and being exploited because they’re not familiar with what is a really critically dangerous area,” Zak said.
He also noted that the attacks carried out by Mexican immigration officers were “deeply concerning.”
“Whether it’s the cartels or other actors, there are people waiting to exploit these migrants as they’re being returned and that’s why we’re seeing these shocking numbers,” Zak said.
He urged the Biden administration to establish a “more orderly and secure” system for processing migrants and asylums seekers who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Biden administration has defended its use of Title 42 on several occasions, even as it lifts restrictions for fully vaccinated foreign nationals with visas crossing the border from Canada or Mexico into the U.S.
Undocumented migrants who cross the border and are fully vaccinated can be expelled under Title 42.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has called Title 42 a “Centers for Disease Control public health authority” and not an “immigration policy,” alleging that pandemic conditions justify its use.
“We view it as a public health imperative as the Centers for Disease Control has so ordered,” Mayorkas said in an interview with Yahoo News.
“We’re in the midst of a pandemic,” he said in the interview. “For anyone to think it’s business as usual I think would be, frankly, ignoring a pandemic that has taken more than 700,000 American lives.”