The Biden administration is preparing to lift a pandemic-era restriction on migrants entering the United States to claim asylum, a move that will please Democrats long opposed to the measure but could surge arrivals at the U.S. southern border to record highs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to announce an end to Title 42, a program that restricted land border crossings in an effort to thwart the spread of COVID-19, within a matter of days, two government sources familiar with the decision told McClatchy.
Sources could not provide details on the exact timing of the announcement, but a CDC official noted that the policy is reviewed every 60 days and that the health agency “will release more information later this week.”
The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday it has been preparing for the end of the policy, which could increase migration flows that are already double what they were at this time last year.
“It’s unclear what the impact of Title 42’s potential lifting in the coming days, weeks or months would be on migratory flows,” a senior DHS official told reporters Tuesday. “But we need to be prepared for what we’re considering — a potential contingency — which is that the lifting of Title 42 could increase flows.”
DHS officials said they are coordinating an “all-of-government effort response to a potential increase in encounters at the border,” including the potential of up to 18,000 arrivals per day.
Complicating matters for the agency is where the migrants are coming from: over 40% of encounters at the border are coming from countries outside of Mexico and the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, known as the Northern Triangle, DHS officials said.
“One of the key challenges we’re facing today is that we’re seeing really large numbers of Cuban nationals, Nicaraguan nationals, and again, increases in Venezuelan nationals at the border,” the senior DHS official said. “Those nationalities are particularly challenging in terms of processing at the border because of the real lack of relations our U.S. government has with those nations.”
The lack of diplomatic ties complicates U.S. efforts to turn those nationals away if they’re found to not be eligible for asylum.
“Over the last few weeks and months, those are the countries that are really driving some of these increases at the border, and they are particularly challenging for us to process,” the official said.
The development also comes nearly a month after a federal appeals court in Washington said that the U.S. government cannot expel migrant families under Title 42 if they could experience persecution or torture back home. The ruling also questioned whether the pandemic-era policy had actually been an effective tool in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
Widespread calls to end Title 42
The Biden administration has been under tremendous pressure from lawmakers, immigration advocates, and public health experts to end the pandemic-era policy, which was first used by President Donald Trump in March 2020. The measure came under intense scrutiny last fall when some 15,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, showed up under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas. Rather than given a chance to apply for asylum, Haitian migrants were quickly expelled from the U.S. under Title 42.
In mid-February, Democratic lawmakers Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Cori Bush spearheaded a 3-page letter to President Joe Biden, urging his administration to end Title 42, stop deportations to places like Haiti, and to study and reverse policies that “continue to disproportionately harm Black migrants.” Florida Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto, Frederica Wilson, and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick were among the 100 signatories.
“Unfortunately, Black migrants continue to face disparate and often inhumane treatment at every stage of the immigration enforcement process,” the letter reads.
Guerline Jozef, the co-founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, who visited the Del Rio encampment and worked to place the few migrants who were not deported, said the end of Title 42 is long overdue. The organization has been advocating for the end of the policy since Trump began using it to expel migrants at the southern border.
“We welcome and applaud the news that the CDC and the Biden administration are finally listening to the call to completely end Title 42. This has been a long fight to restore access to protection for some of the most vulnerable people,” said Jozef.
Jozef and other advocates say they want to make sure that “there are absolutely no expulsions or deportation flights to Haiti, while there’s a possible window period.” They also do not want to see any any new programs put in place denying migrants their rights to make claims for asylum.
“We stand ready to work with our partners to ensure an orderly process at the U.S.-Mexico border,” she said. “We want to make sure that this cruel and unlawful anti-migrant policy masquerading as public health in opposition to science and the values of humanity and dignity ends without exception.”
In welcoming the news of the law’s repeal, advocates Wednesday continued with their criticism of the Biden administration for keeping the policy in place. They urged the administration to restore a humane and just asylum process at the border.
“This policy was designed to keep Black and brown people from petitioning for asylum at the border. Biden should have ended it his first day in office,” said Oscar Chacón, executive director for Alianza Americas, an immigration advocacy group. “The U.S. government needs to take steps now to rapidly build up its capacity to fairly and humanely process asylum applications at its southern border. That means working closely with civil society humanitarian organizations at the border who stand ready to help, should the Department of Homeland Security engage them.”
Some advocates, however, remained skeptical and said the policy should be rescinded right away, not in May, as the New York Times reported.
“While we hope the Biden administration actually follows through on rescinding Title 42 on May 23rd, as reports appear to indicate, experience has unfortunately shown that we cannot take announcements about this administration’s immigration policies at face value,” said Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America’s global policy lead.
He added: “The fact is that after more than a year in office, this administration’s COVID policies remain deeply hypocritical: falsely scapegoating asylum seekers at the border for the spread of the pandemic while simultaneously removing COVID restrictions across the country. This approach continues to show that Title 42 has nothing to do with public health and everything to do with the xenophobia and racism embedded in our immigration system.”
Gottschalk said that every day the policy remains in place is a day that “people fleeing persecution are subjected to assault, violence, and death, simply for seeking their legal right to protection.”
This story was originally published March 30, 2022 3:26 PM.