Indefinite Suspension of Protections for Asylum Seekers and Unaccompanied Children Under May 19, 2020 Order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Chad F. Wolf Robert R. Redfield, MD

Acting Secretary Director

Department of Homeland Security Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

301 7th Street, S.W. 1600 Clifton Road

Washington, D.C. 20528 Atlanta, GA 30329


Re: Indefinite Suspension of Protections for Asylum Seekers and Unaccompanied Children Under May 19, 2020 Order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Director Redfield:

Our 250 legal, faith-based, humanitarian, human rights, and community organizations, many of which advocate on behalf of asylum seekers, immigrants, unaccompanied children, and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, write to strenuously object to the administration’s exploitation of the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to implement indefinite, illegal and life-threatening restrictions on humanitarian protections at the southern U.S. border.

Public health experts have concluded that the March 20 order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), which the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) is using to eviscerate Congressionally mandated and treaty-based protections for children, families, and adults seeking safety at the border, “is based on specious justifications and fails to protect public health.” On May 19, CDC recklessly extended the muchcriticized order indefinitely – fulfilling the administration’s long-sought goal of eliminating these life-saving protections. 

In just six weeks, DHS used the CDC order to block and remove at least 21,000 people – including likely thousands of asylum-seekers and over 1,000 unaccompanied children – expelling them to places where they face risk of kidnapping, rape, and murder, without the legally required opportunity to seek protection in the United States. Under the CDC order, border officers are expelling some Central American children and asylum seekers to Mexico, refusing to accept protection requests from Cameroonian, Cuban, Eritrean, Venezuelan and other asylum seekers, and blocking screenings for asylum seekers returned to Mexico under the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, including those kidnapped and tortured there. People expelled to their home countries face not only the dangers they initially fled but also increasing levels of domestic violence that may drive more women and children to seek asylum and repressive enforcement of public health measures by governments and armed non-state forces.

These expulsions blatantly violate U.S. law and treaty obligations to protect those seeking humanitarian protection. Members of Congress have written that the administration’s legal justification is “deeply flawed” and “raises serious questions about … the Administration’s respect for the rule of law.” The U.N. Refugee Agency has made clear in legal guidance on COVID-19 that states cannot impose “blanket measure[s]” to block asylum seekers. The administration’s sham attempt to show it meets its legal obligations to refugees by offering fear of torture screenings is absurd. Internal guidance reportedly circulated by DHS indicates that Border Patrol agents are instructed to refer for interviews only those asylum seekers who make an “affirmative, spontaneous” request for protection that is “believable.” As a result, only 59 of the thousands of asylum seekers subject to the CDC order have reportedly even been referred for limited torture screenings; the results are equally farcical – only two people have passed. DHS border officers are not trained in, and should not be, making decisions about asylum. It is also not reasonable to expect survivors of persecution or torture to communicate their fears effectively without prompting to armed, uniformed border officers.

The administration cannot disregard federal laws that explicitly recognize the vulnerability of unaccompanied children arriving at the border seeking protection, many of whom are fleeing trafficking or fear persecution. In April, DHS expelled more than 90 percent of children found at the border without a parent or guardian, transferring only 58 to the authority of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (“ORR”). Expelling these children puts them at risk of being returned to trafficking, abuse, or other violence and violates the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which mandates that children arriving alone must be transferred to ORR, provided appropriate care and protection, and given an opportunity to have their protection requests considered. During this global pandemic, this legal framework is especially important.

For women and children fleeing domestic violence the administration’s effective elimination of asylum during the pandemic could not have come at a worse time. Danger is rising for abused women and children sheltering at home when home is not safe, including a surge in violence against girls and women in Latin America and the Caribbean. While few women and children suffering from domestic violence will likely reach the U.S. border given pandemic-related restrictions on movement in many countries, we are concerned that those seeking asylum in the United States are now being promptly returned to this danger with no effective legal process.

Last month, hundreds of our organizations warned the administration that these illegal expulsions put the lives of unaccompanied children and asylum seekers in peril. Instead of heeding those warnings, the administration has instead chosen to extend this dangerous injustice indefinitely. We urge DHS to immediately halt expulsions of unaccompanied children and those seeking humanitarian protection and restore the rule of law at our borders. We call on the CDC to rescind its order and allow for the entry and processing of people seeking refuge in the United States.

As public health experts have explained, U.S. agencies can effectively respond to the needs of asylum seekers and unaccompanied children at the border during the pandemic while safeguarding the health of border officers, those seeking protection, and the general public, and upholding U.S. law and treaty obligations. Decisions relating to COVID-19 should be aimed at saving, not endangering lives, and should be driven by evidence-based public health measures and respect for human rights.



Abolish ICE Denver

ADL (Anti-Defamation League)

Advocating Opportunity

African American Ministers In Action

African Human Rights Coalition

Al Otro Lado

Alianza Americas

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas

All Our Kin

America’s Voice

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Immigration Council

American Immigration Lawyers Association

Amnesty International USA

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta

Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence

Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach


Asylum Access Global

Asylum and Human Rights Clinic at the University of Connecticut School of Law

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network

Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative

Bethany Christian Services

Bet Tzedek Legal Services

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

Border Kindness

Border Patrol Victims Network

California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ)

California Partnership to End Domestic Violence

Campaign for Youth Justice

CARECEN of Northern CA

Casa Cornelia Law Center

Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Center for Victims of Torture (CVT)

Center for Victims of Torture Georgia

Center Global, a program of the DC Center for the LGBT Community


Central American Resource Center- CARECEN- of California

Central West Justice Center

Centro Legal de la Raza

Chester Community Coalition

Children’s Advocacy Institute

Children’s Defense Fund-California

The Children’s Partnership

Children’s Rights

Church World Service


Clarion Franciscan

Coalición de Derechos Humanos

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies, Georgia

Colectiva Legal del Pueblo

Colibri Center for Human Rights

Colorado Children’s Campaign

Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

Comisión de paz, justicia y ecología de frailes capuchinos de Puerto Rico

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto

Community of St. Francis

Community Renewal Society

Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces

Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants

Connecticut Shoreline Indivisible

Cooperation Operation

Cornell Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appeals Clinic

Cornell International Human Rights Clinic: Litigation and Advocacy

Council for Global Equality

CPC – Chinese-American Planning Council

Detention Watch Network

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)

Disciples Center for Public Witness

DIsciples Justice Action Network

The Door

Empowering Pacific Islander Communities

End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin

Equal Access Legal Services

Equality California

Equality North Carolina

Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project

Eugene Catholic Worker

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Faith in Public Life

Families Belong Together

Family Equality

Family Values at Work

First Focus on Children

First Parish Cambridge: Beyond Borders Sin Fronteras

The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project

Franciscan Action Network

Freedom for Immigrants

Freedom Network USA

Frontera de Cristo

Georgia Asylum & Immigration Network (GAIN)

Global Justice Clinic of NYU School of Law*

Group in defense of the Amazon (GDA)

Haitian Bridge Alliance

Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network


Her Justice


Hispanic Federation

Hope Border Institute

Human Rights First

Human Rights Initiative of North Texas

Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, Elon University School of Law

Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown (Iowa)

Immigrant Defenders Law Center

Immigrant Defense Advocates

Immigrant Hope – Atlanta

Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Immigration Equality

Innovation Law Lab

Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI)

Interfaith Oceans

Interfaith Welcome Coalition

International Human Rights Clinic, University of Chicago Law School

International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)

International Rescue Committee

Islamic Relief USA

Japanese American Citizens League

Jewish Family Service of San Diego

JFON Houston


Justice for Migrant Women

Justice in Motion

Justice Policy Institute

Justice Strategies

Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice

Keep Tucson Together – No More Deaths

Kids in Need of Defense

Kino Border Initiative

Lambda Legal

Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center

Latin Advocacy Network (LATINAN)

Latin America Working Group (LAWG)

Latino Community Fund (LCF Georgia)

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

Leadership Conference of Women Religious

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Legal Services for Children

Leitner Center for International Law and Justice

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Marion County Commission on Youth, Inc.

Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center

Mid-South Immigration Advocates

Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project

Modern Military Association of America


Multicultural Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA)


National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Alliance to End Sexual Violence

National Association of Social Workers

National Center for Children in Poverty

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Center for Youth Law

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Council of Asian Pacific Americans

National Council of Jewish Women

National Council on Independent Living

National Employment Law Project

National Equality Action Team

National Health Law Program

National Immigrant Justice Center

National Immigration Law Center

National LGBTQ Task Force

National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights

National Nurse-Led Care Consortium

National Women’s Law Center

Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence

Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

New Hampshire-Vermont Guatemala Accompaniment Project

NorCal Resist

Not Dead Yet

Oasis Legal Services

OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates

Open Immigration Legal Services

Oregon Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice

Organización en California de Líderes Campesinas, Inc.

Orlando Center For Justice, Inc.

Our Children Oregon

Oxfam America

Pacific McGeorge Community Legal Services

Pacifica Social Justice

Pangea Legal Services

Partnership for America’s Children

Pax Christi USA

People For the American Way

People’s Parity Project, UConn Law

Poligon Education Fund

Program for Torture Victims (PTV)

Project South

Public Advocacy for Kids (PAK)

Public Citizens for Children and Youth

Public Counsel

Quixote Center


Red Franciscana para Migrantes

Reformed Church HP-Affordable Housing Corp

Reformed Church of Highland Park

Refugees International

Rian Immigrant Center

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network

Rural Coalition

Save the Children Action Network

School Sisters of Notre Dame, Central Pacific Province


Silver State Equality-Nevada

Sister Parish, Inc.

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team

Sisters of St. Francis of Rochester, MN

Sisters of St. Joseph, TOSF

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

Southern Border Communities Coalition

Southern Poverty Law Center

Southwestern Law School Legal Clinic

Southwestern Law School Removal Defense Program

SPLC Action Fund

Still Waters Anti-trafficking Program

Tahirih Justice Center

Texas Civil Rights Project

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)

UDC Law Immigration & Human Rights Clinic

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

University of Tulsa College of Law Legal Clinic

URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity

USF Immigration & Deportation Defense Clinic

VIDAS Legal Services

Washington Defender Association

Washington Office on Latin America

We All Rise

Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ Immigrant and Justice Task Force

Wilco Justice Alliance (Williamson County Texas)

Wind of the Spirit

Witness at the Border

Women’s Refugee Commission

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

Young Elected Officials Network

Young People For



*This communication does not purport to represent the institutional views, if any, of New York University.