Biden admin. prepares for uptick in border crossings amid plans to halt COVID-19 asylum rule

Members of a caravan of Central Americans who spent weeks traveling across Mexico walk from Mexico to the U.S. side of the border on April 29, 2018, in Tijuana, Baja California Norte, Mexico.
Members of a caravan of Central Americans who spent weeks traveling across Mexico walk from Mexico to the U.S. side of the border on April 29, 2018, in Tijuana, Baja California Norte, Mexico. | David McNew/Getty Images

The Biden administration is preparing for a sharp increase in illegal border crossings as its plans to lift a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measure limiting asylum seekers from applying for protection at the southern border as part of the effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Multiple reports citing people familiar with the situation say that the CDC is likely to end orders issued in March 2020 as part of duties outlined in Title 42 of the U.S. Code to medically examine noncitizens. The order allowed the U.S. to stop immigrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. for public health reasons.

The order allows for most migrants to be rapidly deported and for immigration proceedings to be bypassed. 

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When asked about the CDC plan to end Title 42 and its impact on the border, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield told a press conference on Wednesday that the administration was “planning for multiple contingencies.”

“[W]e 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,” Bedingfield said. “And so, we are doing a lot of work to plan for that contingency.”

Bedingfield said that Title 42 is a “public health directive” and “not an immigration or migration enforcement measure.”

“So the decision on when to lift Title 42, we defer to the CDC,” she stated. 

“Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security did a briefing walking through some of the planning that they’re doing to increase efficiency, to ensure that we have the capacity, to ensure that we are operating in a way that is treating migrants humanely, fairly.”

Bedingfield noted that Homeland Security was “more broadly” doing work to “continue to build up our migration system and ensure that we are restoring order at the border.”

Despite calls from some Democrats to end the order immediately, The Wall Street Journal reports that the CDC is delaying the implementation of the order rescinding the Title 42 powers until May 23 so that Homeland Security can plan for what is expected to be a sharp rise in border crossings in the coming months. 

The order is pending at the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and is expected to be made final this week as the agency faces a deadline to decide whether to extend the Trump-era policy. 

The CDC had previously voted to extend the Title 42 orders in late January due to the uptick on COVID-19 cases attributed to the Omicron variant, the Associated Press reports

Many members of Congress, including moderate Democrats, want the orders to remain in place. 

“If anything, we should be looking at permanency on Title 42,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., told reporters this week. “Maybe that would spur us to get a good immigration policy that works for Americans and secure our borders — the borders have to be secure,” he said.

Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona have warned Biden not to lift the public health directive until a plan is in place to process the expected rise in asylum claims in a letter sent last Thursday, according to Roll Call

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, argues that the orders need to be in place, at least until border security has improved.

“The Border Patrol agents told me they expect a tsunami of humans to come across the border and the Border Patrol has said they will lose control entirely,” Cornyn told the AP.

Other Democrats have voiced disappointment that the Title 42 order remain in effect. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., in issuing a joint statement earlier this month contending that it's wrong to “continue sending families with minor children back to persecution and torture.”

“With vaccines and testing widely available, there is no public health benefit to sending asylum seekers back to harm,” the letter contends. 

“As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxes [its] domestic COVID-19 protocols, it is perplexing that the agency continues to recommend the extended use of this draconian policy at the border, contradicting the overwhelming signs of America’s pandemic recovery under President Biden’s leadership.”

The American Civil Liberties Union claims Title 42 has been “misused as a border enforcement tool.”

“Our government has the tools it needs to safely screen people at the border, as our laws require, to determine whether they qualify for asylum or other humanitarian protections,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The CDC should resist any political interference from the White House and end Title 42 in its entirety.”

Illegal crossings on the southern border of the United States have already been on the rise in recent weeks, according to a report by The Washington Post. March has seen around 200,000 detentions, the highest since last August.

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security reported about 7,100 migrants are crossing the border daily compared to 5,900 in February, according to AP

The Title 42 order has allowed the government to carry out 1.7 million deportations, 70% of which have come under President Biden, CBS News reports. 

Earlier this month, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky terminated a Title 42 order regarding unaccompanied noncitizen minors, thus allowing them to remain in the country.

The order termination came in response to a preliminary injunction given by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas “enjoining and restraining” CDC from enforcing its orders excepting unaccompanied immigrant children.

“The court found that CDC had not adequately explained its decision to treat unaccompanied noncitizen children differently than other noncitizens subject to the CDC orders,” stated the CDC earlier this month.

“CDC addresses the court’s concerns and has determined, after considering current public health conditions and recent developments, that expulsion of unaccompanied noncitizen children is not warranted to protect the public health.” 

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