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CDC Scientist Reconfirms Political Origins of Title 42

October 17, 2022 (2 min read)

Camilo Montoya-Galvez, CBS News, Oct. 17, 2022

"The U.S. government's top public health expert on migration told Congress he refused to approve a policy allowing mass expulsions at the U.S.-Mexico border because he believed the measure, enacted by President Donald Trump and retained by President Joe Biden, unfairly stigmatized migrants as spreaders of COVID-19. During an interview in May with the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Dr. Marty Cetron called the policy, known as Title 42, a "wholesale border closure" that suspended the rights of migrants and "risked the misuse of a public health authority," according to a transcript. ... "It did not originate from CDC," Cetron told congressional investigators, saying he "refused" to sign an order to invoke Title 42 after his team did not find sufficient public health evidence to justify the move. "We could not substantiate that the threat was, quote/unquote, being addressed by this," he added. When Cetron learned the Trump administration would invoke Title 42 to expel migrants and asylum-seekers en masse, he told then-CDC Direct Robert Redfield he wanted to be "excused" from the policy. On March 20, 2020, Redfield signed the order greenlighting the border expulsions, which continue to this day. ... Cetron's internal opposition to Title 42 undermines the CDC's public defense of the policy, which both the Trump and Biden administrations have defended as a pandemic tool designed to curb COVID-19 outbreaks in border facilities. ... In May, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who had issued an order in August 2021 defending Title 42, said the border measure was no longer needed because of improving pandemic conditions, including increased vaccination rates in the U.S. and in migrants' home countries. However, Republican-led states convinced a federal judge in Louisiana to block Title 42's termination, forcing officials to continue the expulsions. Under Mr. Biden, border officials have exempted several groups from Title 42, including unaccompanied children, Ukrainian refugees and some vulnerable asylum-seekers. But the Biden administration has continued to carry out tens of thousands of expulsions monthly, and recently expanded Title 42 to start expelling Venezulean asylum-seekers under an agreement with Mexico, which previously only accepted the return of its citizens and Central American migrants. Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union Lawyer who's asking a federal court to invalidate Title 42, said the U.S. government could've implemented "less restrictive" coronavirus mitigation steps, "without the need for the extraordinary step of expelling asylum-seekers to grave danger." "We have always believed that Title 42 was not about public health but a pretext to close the border to desperate asylum seekers," Gelernt told CBS News. Two former senior CDC officials confirmed Cetron's opposition to Title 42, noting the original order authorizing the migrant expulsions was written by a lawyer at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). "They were not comfortable with having any part of it," a former senior CDC official told CBS News, referring to Cetron and his team. "We knew the [Trump] administration and Stephen Miller, especifically, had wanted to do this from day one."