US President Joe Biden is planning to end a controversial immigration policy introduced by his predecessor Donald Trump at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Known as Title 42, the provision allowed for the immediate deportation of migrants caught trying to enter illegally at the southern border as well as those seeking asylum.
Title 42 was introduced in March 2020 on the grounds that immigration flows posed a public health problem. Now, Biden is giving in to pressure from human rights groups and within his own Democratic Party and will likely end the policy on May 23, according to The Wall Street Journal, which saw the draft of the order that will phase out a policy that has helped swiftly expel 1.7 million people.
On Wednesday, Biden told the press that there would “soon” be a decision on the matter. But the rumors have been circulating in Washington for weeks. In mid-March, a group of Democratic senators had asked the president to reconsider the role of a measure that was introduced for public health reasons. High-profile figures such as Cory Booker, Bob Menendez, Alex Padilla and Chuck Schumer noted that while most US states were easing their health measures following a drop in Covid-19 cases, Title 42 remained in place.
“We are deeply disappointed in the Biden Administration’s decision to maintain Title 42,” said the senators in a joint statement. “With vaccines and testing widely available, there is no public health benefit to sending asylum seekers back to harm.”
There was similar criticism in the House of Representatives. “Title 42 was never about public health – it was a way to keep people seeking refuge and protection out. Seeking asylum is legal in the United States,” tweeted the congressmember Juan Vargas.
Most of the migrants who have been expelled under Title 42 come from Mexico and the so-called northern triangle of Central America. Border authorities reported a little over one million deportations from September 2020 to September 2021. And the situation is not very different now: 430,000 migrants were turned away between October 2021 and this past February.
Some lawmakers from border states have expressed concern about the end of a policy that has contained immigration flows that had reached historical highs during Biden’s first year in office. Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, said the consequences of lifting Title 42 will be “a tsunami of drugs and migrants.” Two Democratic senators for the border state of Arizona, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, also support keeping the measure in place.
Immigration will be one of the biggest issues on the agenda with a view to the midterm election in early November, when Republicans will seek to wrest control of Congress from the Democrats.
In the meantime, Washington has taken some steps ahead of the phaseout. Migrants crossing the border are now being vaccinated for Covid-19, and new holding centers are being prepared to process what could be a fresh influx of people. The White House recently said it was working on a plan to reduce asylum seekers’ waiting times. This could end up replacing Title 42, as it would allow border patrol officers to make the first call on the eligibility of an asylum petitioner. The goal is to reduce the workload of immigration courts, which have a backlog of 1.7 million pending cases.