Melanie Nathan: "African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC- African HRC) has submitted the following comment and objection to the CDC Rule change that is harming all asylum seekers, especially the most marginalized who make their way to the Southern Borders of the United States. The Letter I wrote, and formally submitted to the comments section of the Government Docket, speaks for itself. The Government has no reason for rejecting asylum seekers who can all be quarantined within the realm of our asylum pipeline. The government using COVID-19 to exclude its obligation to asylum seekers is cruel and a reflection of weakness by our administration, either an admission of ineptness in our fights against the CoronaVirus or of its scapegoating, that reflects its well-announced and previously documented xenophobia. In fact it reflects the very anti-immigrant stance that Donald Trump announced on day one of his run for the presidency."
April 22, 2020
Submitted via regulations.gov
Office of the Chief of Staff
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road NE, MS H21-10
Atlanta, GA 30329.
Re: CDC Docket No. CDC-2020-0033, RIN: 0920-AA76, Comments in Response to Interim Final Rule Control of Communicable Diseases; Foreign Quarantine: Suspension of Introduction of Persons into the United States from Designated Foreign Countries or Places for Public Health Purposes
Dear Mr. McGowan,
I write to express strong opposition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) Interim Final Rule (“Rule”), published in the Federal Register on March 24, 2020. The Rule is the basis for the CDC’s Order dated March 20, 2020, “Suspending the Introduction of Certain Persons from Countries Where a Communicable Disease Exists” (“CDC Order”).
Both the Rule and the CDC Order fail to address US obligations to asylum seekers and unaccompanied migrant children, who are also often asylum seekers, under US and international law. As a result, US Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) is now expelling unauthorized migrants, including children, without considering whether they are eligible for protection under US law. The Rule, ostensibly intended to protect human life, is instead putting asylum seekers’ lives at serious risk. We urge that the rule be withdrawn in its entirety.
The particular hardship for LGBTQI individuals can never be understated. LGBTQI individuals have risked their lives, through extraordinary onerous journeys, to make it to our borders for protection against extreme forms of violence, often escaping death. There are 50 African countries criminalizing sexuality and gender identity. Some individuals are compelled to make these risky journeys in their quest for asylum, as there are no other options available. No countries along the way provide the safety or protections that they so urgently need. The United States is their only resort for refuge, if they were lucky enough to land anywhere south of our borders. This group of people MUST be allowed into the United States, immediately upon arrival, and their asylum process must be honored accordingly. The LGBTQI individuals, from whatever country, are not safe until they gain entry into the USA. This is not a group which can safely wait for entry or be sent back to home countries, where they will likely die upon return. Last year, by way of example, African HRC provided expert testimony in a granted asylum case for a 23 year old lesbian from Ethiopia. She had made her way to Brazil, where she was not safe, and then spent 7 months traveling up through South and Central America to the U.S. Southern Border. She had a 4th grade education and could not speak Spanish. I cannot imagine someone like her, having suffered untold physical and sexual brutality, in extreme trauma, being turned away at our border, under any circumstances. This is not the America I know or the American way of treating human beings.
Under US law and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which the US is party, the United States may not return asylum seekers to face threats to their lives or freedom without affording them an opportunity to apply for asylum or for protection against facing the threat of torture, and conducting a full and fair examination of those claims.
Even in times of emergency, governments remain obliged to protect refugees from return to a threat of persecution, exposure to torture or inhuman and degrading conditions, or threats to life and physical security. Travel by refugees fleeing threats to their life and safety constitutes essential travel, as it can mean the difference between life or death.
Summary expulsions under the Rule also deprive unaccompanied children of important safeguards against human trafficking. The 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, passed with strong bipartisan support and signed by President George W. Bush, requires specialized screening of unaccompanied children and their expeditious transfer to appropriate care. Without these critical protections, children run the risk of serious harm. Already thousands of expelled migrants, including hundreds of unaccompanied children, have been deprived of their rights.
I understand and appreciate the seriousness of the situation that CDC is engaged in addressing, and that rational, evidence-based public health measures are warranted given the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, returning refugees to persecution or other grave threats constitutes a serious human rights violation that is not permitted under international law even in times of emergency. I believe you can protect the health of immigrants and the public at large without overbroad new regulations that turn away asylum seekers.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the rule. Kind regards, Melanie
Melanie Nathan B.A. LL.B Executive Director
African Human Rights Coalition (nathan@africanHRC.org)