It has been a busy week for U.S. immigration policy, with a flurry of announcements ranging from new federal efforts to streamline asylum cases and to launching more expansive and humane programs in response to anticipated surges in migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border.
But it was news that the Biden administration finally may be taking steps to end Title 42, a Trump-era policy that used COVID-19 as an excuse to conduct mass deportations of asylum seekers and other migrants, that immigration advocates especially welcomed.
“I embrace the interest of the Biden administration to terminate Title 42,” said Elket Rodriguez, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving at the U.S.-Mexico border. “This administration cannot continue to expel migrants to Mexico and expose them to kidnappings, torture, rape and aggressions. The time has come to welcome all refugees, regardless of their racial or ethnic background.”
He added: “Title 42 has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that expelling migrants and denying them access to asylum processing does not work to avoid the spread of COVID-19, deter migrants from seeking safety or address increases in border crossers. On the contrary, expelling migrants encourages repeat border crossers and increases the work of immigration officials. There is no valid reason to extend the policy. None at all.”
But advocates also said the nation can do better with its overall immigration policy and with the timing of eliminating Title 42.
“Nothing is keeping them from ending this today. From now to May, thousands of people will be unjustly denied asylum and deported back to danger,” tweeted Erika Andiola, an immigrant rights activist and former chief advocacy officer for RAICES Texas.
The newly formed Interfaith Immigration Coalition joined in on both welcoming the development while also calling for an immediate end to the policy: “Each delay means another day of human beings — made in the image of their Creator — being denied their internationally recognized right to flee persecution and seek safety.”
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, pleaded with the White House to hold steady against political pressure to retain Title 42.
“The administration should be thoughtful and bold in implementing a new vision, rooted in fairness, dignity and humanity. We know there will be much political theater surrounding this decision, but we urge the administration to remain focused on upholding our nation’s legal and humanitarian obligations to those seeking safety at America’s golden doors,” she said.
So far, the administration has made no official announcement about ending the policy in May, and news reports have cited unnamed officials with knowledge of the plan.
But the ultimate fate of the policy lies with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said when asked if the administration is prepared for a corresponding influx of migrants.
“Title 42 is a public health directive; it is not an immigration or migration enforcement measure. So, the decision on when to lift Title 42 we defer to the CDC,” according to a transcript of a March 30 press briefing. “That being said, of course we are planning for multiple contingencies, and we have every expectation that when the CDC ultimately decides it’s appropriate to lift Title 42, there will be an influx of people to the border. And so, we are doing a lot of work to plan for that contingency.”
Bedingfield also pointed to broad actions announced March 29 by the Department of Homeland Security to address anticipated increases in border encounters due to factors other than the possible end of Title 42.
“Violence, food insecurity, poverty and lack of economic opportunity in several countries in the Western hemisphere are driving unprecedented levels of migration to our Southwest border,” according to a DHS fact sheet. “The devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the region has only exacerbated these challenges. Human smuggling organizations peddle misinformation that the border is open.”
The federal response will include moving agents and volunteers to border locations experiencing surges in activity, improved processing procedures, more immigration hearings and quicker removal of asylum seekers who do not have valid claims. Individuals with criminal backgrounds will be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice, and coordination with other nations will increase.
Separately, DHS announced a rule streamlining the process of handling asylum cases at the U.S.-Mexico border and giving asylum seekers the ability to request reconsideration of their cases and expanding the evidence they can submit to authorities. But even the agency acknowledged the need for wider solutions.
“There is broad agreement that our immigration system is fundamentally broken. The Biden-Harris administration continues to call on Congress to pass legislation that holistically addresses the root causes of migration, fixes the immigration system, and strengthens legal pathways,” DHS said.
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Biden administration once again assailed over perpetuation of Trump’s Title 42 expulsions