The White House is facing a thorny decision over whether to end a pandemic border policy that has allowed Homeland Security to immediately expel most undocumented immigrants, with pressure mounting from liberal lawmakers and immigrant-rights activists.
But other Democrats and most Republicans say it’s too early to cancel the expulsion power, known as Title 42 authority, as Mexico and other countries continue to see massive numbers of coronavirus cases.
Title 42 was invoked by the previous administration and it’s one of the few Trump border-related policies the Biden team has kept largely in place, irking liberals on Capitol Hill who say migrants who deserve asylum are instead being blocked at the border.
“We will remain strident in our calls for the administration to rescind this harmful policy immediately,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts Democrat, at a press conference on Wednesday. “Failure to act would be unconscionable and only further exacerbate the hurt and harm that our immigrant neighbors have been experiencing.”
The administration had been eyeing an end to the authority later this summer, but speculation is growing that it may be reconsidering amid worsening border numbers.
That’s not sitting well with activists who say 16 months is too long to have the border shut down, and it’s time to end Title 42.
“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” Rep. Judy Chu, California Democrat, told The Washington Times. “Title 42 did not exist before, and to use COVID-19 as the excuse is not right. Each case of asylum should be based on its own, and not just on their family’s status.”
In October, when the Trump administration was still in control, the Border Patrol caught about 69,000 people jumping the southern border. More than 63,000 were expelled under Title 42, or about 91%.
In June, under President Biden, agents caught more than 178,000 people and expelled about 103,000 of them under Title 42 — about 58%.
Meanwhile, more than 34,000 were caught and immediately released in June.
Fox News reported a 900% increase in COVID-19 cases in early July among migrants crossing in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas, which is suffering the worst of the border surge.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat and member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, said it’s too soon to stop using Title 42.
He said there are other ways Homeland Security can try to block undocumented immigrants under the traditional immigration provisions, known as Title 8, but it’s more cumbersome.
“It would be a mistake for them to get rid of Title 42,” he said. “Title 42 will get us to return people in about 10 to 15 minutes. If Title 42 goes away, they can still use Title 8 — that will take 45 minutes to an hour, so you can still return [people] but it’s going to be more intensive. And right now, my district doesn’t want to see open borders.”
Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, said the growing number of migrants at the southern border puts the administration in a tough spot.
“It’s complicated because there’s such a surge of people seeking asylum,” Mr. Beyer said. “And when you could use Title 42 as Trump was doing, it was easy to sit back and claim that the virus was the problem.”
Mr. Beyer also said Biden has to make his decision on factoring in the recent surge in the delta variant of COVID-19 that’s been spreading.
Variants of the coronavirus have prompted some localities to return to their masking orders and other public health measures to reduce the risk.
“I trust the president and the people around him to modify the decision if it seems that it needs to be modified … say, if there’s a really big delta surge,” Mr. Beyer said. “And we have enough of a challenge here right now making sure that the unvaccinated aren’t spreading the disease.”