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Border Shut Down Endangers the Health of Migrants: Migrant Clinicians Network Statement

A person being processed at the border.

This week, President Biden signed an executive order that significantly restricts the ability for people arriving at the US Southern border from asking for asylum. Under the order, no asylum requests will be accepted per day after 2,500 migrant encounters at official ports of entry. Those who persist to ask for asylum after the cap is reached and do not express fear of returning to their home countries could face a five-year ban from re-entering the US.

Migrant Clinicians Network has a 40-year history of serving the health and well-being of newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers. We have served thousands who have arrived at the US Southern border. Many have mental and physical health needs after fleeing danger, violence, persecution, or disasters in their homelands; many more have experienced additional trauma and exhaustion while traveling for days, months, or years to the border.

Immigration policies at the US border at a bare minimum must respect basic human rights and ensure that further trauma and harm are not inflicted on those seeking asylum. This policy does not meet those minimums.

“Everyone has a right to seek asylum when their lives are at risk. This policy rejects that basic human and legal right,” asserted Kim Nolte, MPH, Chief Executive Officer at Migrant Clinicians Network.

An exclusion to the policy that permits unaccompanied minors to request asylum will push parents to send children alone. Others may attempt to cross the border without authorization along more remote and dangerous routes in an attempt to circumvent the rule out of desperation.

“Asylum seekers are asking for our protection. This policy does the opposite, threatening to put people in harm’s way, leaving them exposed and at risk in border towns, and encouraging parents to send their children alone in a desperate attempt to find safety in the US,” said Nolte. 

Migration is difficult, exposing people to significant new health risks, from heat stress and dehydration, to exposure to disease, to exploitation and trafficking. Migrants who intend to ask for asylum struggle to find sufficient resources to meet their health needs, including basic health care, while they are making their way to the border. While current US border policies and systems are hardly sufficient for modern migration, all new legal and regulatory efforts must first consider the basic well-being, dignity, and human rights of the vulnerable people who are asking for protection.

Learn more about MCN’s work providing virtual case management for vulnerable asylum seekers in need, like pregnant asylum seekers and asylum seeking-children with specialty care needs. Read more about the health risks faced by migrants