Biden administration to halt pandemic policy blocking migrants who claim asylum
Immigrants walk towards the Rio Grande to cross into Del Rio, Texas on Sept. 23, 2021, from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. Mexican immigration officials had launched an operation in a small migrant camp on the Mexican side of the river, and many families, fearing deportation, surged across the border to take their chances on the U.S. side. (Photo by John Moore / Getty Images).
WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday the government will terminate a Trump-era policy that prevented migrants from claiming asylum during a health crisis, including the coronavirus pandemic.
The policy will end on May 23, the CDC wrote in its notice.
“There is no longer a serious danger that the entry of covered citizens, as defined by the August order, into the United States will result in the introduction, transmission, and spread of COVID-19,” according to the notice.
The CDC added that vaccination rates in the United States and abroad “provide an additional layer of protection.”
The order, known as Title 42, was enacted by the Trump administration in March 2020 as a way to prevent migrants from seeking asylum in the United States amid a health crisis, and expelled migrants to their home countries.
More than 1 million migrants have been expelled under Title 42, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
The CDC had the authority to keep the policy in place, making a decision every 60 days whether to maintain it.
Once the order is terminated, families and single adults who enter the country without legal authorization must establish a legal basis for remaining in the U.S. or they will be removed, Department of Homeland Security and State Department officials said on a call with reporters Friday.
Months in the works
DHS officials said they had been planning the ending of Title 42 for months, and have sent hundreds of law enforcement officials to the border to assist in processing, and will continue to send agents.
“We are coordinating across the whole of the government to ensure that we are prepared for any potential increase in border encounters as a result of termination of the Title 42 order,” a DHS official said.
DHS and State Department officials said that the CDC is putting in additional COVID-19 protocols, such as vaccination requirements for migrants.
Officials said they will begin to provide up to 2,000 vaccinations a day across 11 locations along the border and are working to expand to 27 locations in the coming weeks.
DHS and State Department officials said the U.S. needs an overhaul of its immigration system, and reiterated the president’s call on Congress to work on bipartisan legislation to address immigration reform.
“The only long-term solution to these periodic surges that we have seen over the last decade under presidents of both parties can only come from comprehensive legislation and lasting reform that can only happen with our friends in Congress,” a State Department official said.
Democratic members of the U.S. House who lead a committee and subcommittee that manage border security, Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Nanette Diaz Barragán of California, said in a joint statement that the Trump-era policy was never about public health and was inhumane.
“From the earliest days of this pandemic, the Trump Administration sought to exploit it to advance his anti-immigrant agenda and used Title 42 to single out migrants as a health risk,” they said. “It is not lost on (us) that folks who seized on the Trump Administration’s Title 42 restrictions to stoke fear about migrants bringing COVID into communities were among the first to lift indoor mask mandates and other restrictions.”
They continued: “Our government has the tools to safely process and screen people at the border, as required by law, in order to determine whether they qualify for asylum or other humanitarian protections.”
Expediting asylum cases
In preparation for the end of the order, the Biden administration announced in late March a new policy to expedite asylum cases at the U.S.-Mexico border in an attempt to resolve a years-long backlog.
The departments of Justice and Homeland Security issued a rule to allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials — rather than immigration judges — to make decisions on claims by migrants at the border that they cannot return to their home countries for fear of torture or persecution. This rule would not apply to unaccompanied children.
The current backlog of immigration cases handled by judges is nearly 1.5 million, according to tracking by Syracuse University.
But immigration advocates and attorneys expressed concern that the new policy could prevent asylum seekers from obtaining legal representation if their cases are denied.
Congressional Democrats and immigration advocates have pressured the White House to end the Title 42 policy. The White House has deferred to the CDC, arguing that it would not weigh in on a public health matter.
In the days leading up to the CDC announcement, amid news reports Title 42 would be lifted, Republicans criticized the White House and called on the CDC to keep the policy in place. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said ending Title 42 would worsen immigration at the border.
“Ending Title 42 without any real border security plan in place would spark a humanitarian and security crisis like we’ve never seen,” he said.
Sergio Gonzales, the executive director of the Immigration Hub, an immigration advocacy center, said in a statement that the Biden administration was correct to end the policy.
“As we watch our European allies extend compassion to Ukrainian refugees abroad, we are reminded of our own values and history in welcoming those yearning to breathe free,” Gonzales said. “This is how we live up to our promise to the American public and those who are fleeing persecution, torture or war and seeking protection within our borders.”
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