Title 42
Central American Migration

Pushed back, beaten and exposed: Stories from the US-Mexico border

For two years, under a policy known as Title 42, the United States government has used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to close its southern border to asylum seekers. This devastating policy has exposed highly vulnerable people to more violence and danger.

Title 42, invoked by the Trump administration in 2020 and repeatedly extended by the Biden administration, allows the blocking and expulsion of people seeking protection at the US border. The policy has been used to authorise over 1.45 million expulsions from the US to dangerous cities along the US-Mexico border, where people are abandoned with limited access to shelter, basic services, and at threat of violence from criminal gangs or police.

Every day, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in Mexico witness the fear that asylum seekers and migrants face due to the policy of Title 42. For two years we have repeatedly stated that there is no legitimate public health justification for Title 42.

Title 42 is a xenophobic policy disguised as public health protection that does nothing but put vulnerable people in harm’s way. There is no excuse for continuing to misuse the order to turn away asylum seekers and block their right to seek protection. The Biden administration must end Title 42 immediately.

Below are testimonies from people recently expelled from the United States under Title 42, who are now stranded in Piedras Negras, along the US-Mexico border.

Marvin Ulloa, 37, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. “They grabbed me by the neck, threw me on the ground and handcuffed me. I had my face on the ground and he [an immigration agent] put his foot on my head. More agents arrived and beat me.”
Title 42

Marvin is travelling with his wife and two-year-old daughter. He fled Honduras in April 2021 fearing for his life after a relative was killed. He was denied asylum in Mexico and crossed the river to reach the United States in February. There he was briefly held in US custody.

Marvin and his family are now living in fear in an abandoned house in Piedras Negras and are always at risk of being run off by local authorities. There are no shelters, he says, and the ones that are available he can’t afford. Below he describes physical abuse that he was subjected to in US detention and the deplorable living conditions for asylum seekers expelled to Mexico.

“The night of 13 February we crossed the river into the United States and the immigration police caught us. They beat me. I called them out and they got mad,” says Marvin.

“They grabbed me by the neck, threw me on the ground and handcuffed me. I had my face on the ground and he [an immigration agent] put his foot on my head. More agents arrived and beat me. My daughter covered her eyes and started to cry, but they didn't care. My wife was crying too and tried to stop it, but they grabbed her and sat her back down.” he says.

I want to cry but I pretend to be strong. As a man I could deal with this, but with a family, I don’t want them to suffer here. Marvin Ulloa, a migrant from San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

“They took us to a room. I asked if there was a lawyer who could help defend me and they said no. They didn't explain anything to me, they didn't even check to see if I was OK. They put a mat on the floor and I stayed there, enduring the cold and the fear. I didn't sleep well, my whole body ached. My head was swollen. At 7 a.m  they came to leave us here at the border,” says Marvin.

“I'm worried about my health, that I'm going to lose my memory. Yesterday I saw someone I knew and I didn't recognise him. This whole part [his head] here is hurting me. That's why I want to go see MSF, so they can give me medicine. I was very affected by the beating they gave me in the detention centre in Eagle Pass [Texas]. There are cameras there and I think that what they did to me was recorded. 

“I want to cry but I pretend to be strong. As a man I could deal with this, but with a family, I don’t want them to suffer here, enduring hunger and cold. 

I’d like to reach the United States. I want to go somewhere else, to another country, where someone could help us. There’s no help here.”

José María Paz Celaya, 31, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras “[The immigration agent] wanted to undress me and I told him that this was forbidden... They hit my face, they threw me on the ground, and I fell face-first. They handcuffed my hands and feet like I was a criminal and had me kneel for an hour.”
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José left Honduras due to poor economic conditions and threats from local gangs. He worked in transportation, an industry in which many people are subject to extortion from gangs in Honduras. After the third attempt on his life for not paying, he left his children – aged 12, 9, and 6 – with his parents and set off for safety in the United States.

He travelled by train and truck and was imprisoned in Mexico for several months, where, he alleges, he was abused, both mentally and physically. He attempted to cross the border to the United States and was quickly detained and beaten in US custody, he says.

“The immigration agent asked me if I had marijuana and I told him that I didn't smoke. He insisted and I answered the same,” says José. “He wanted to undress me and I told him that this was forbidden, that this is undignified. ‘You don't make the rules here, you're not in your country, fucking immigrant,’ he told me. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘but you are not going to undress me.’ And I did not let myself be undressed. 

“They hit my face, they threw me on the ground, and I fell face-first. They handcuffed my hands and feet like I was a criminal and had me kneel for an hour,” he says. 

Two of us sleep and two stay awake to take care of each other. Most of us here fear for our lives. José María Paz Celaya, a migrant from San Pedro Sula, Honduras

“In Piedras Negras it’s horrible, you live under the threat that [criminals] will kidnap you. We live with a terror of walking down the street, and since we wear backpacks, they know we are migrants and they want to kidnap us, but we don’t have money,” says José. “We came from our countries to escape threats, not knowing that we are entering a situation that is sometimes worse. 

“Sometimes I don't sleep for fear that something will happen to me. We stayed in an abandoned house around here with three other travellers. Two of us sleep and two stay awake to take care of each other. Most of us here fear for our lives,” he says.

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Central American Migration
Press Release 19 May 2022