“Under the Public Health Services Act of 1944, codified in Title 42 of the U.S. Code, federal health officials may issue orders intended to curb the cross-border spread of diseases. Rarely invoked before the pandemic, Trump administration officials looked to Title 42 in late March 2020 as a way to stop migrants from crossing U.S. land borders. Would-be migrants could no longer cross into the United States from Canada and Mexico after the CDC’s Title 42 order, ostensibly because they posed contagion risks. The order has been used almost exclusively to expel migrants at the southern border, and CBP officials have carried out 1.7 million expulsions under its authority.
Its implementation has proven to be largely counterproductive and harmful to migrants. Those expelled under Title 42 faced nearly 10,000 incidents of kidnapping, torture, rape, and other violence after being sent to dangerous border towns in Mexico, according to Human Rights First. What’s more, because Title 42 does not penalize repeat crossings, the recidivism rate rose and the total number of CBP apprehensions spiked. This led to inflated reports of chaos and unprecedented migration at the U.S.-Mexico boundary, which only helped fuel the false argument that President Joe Biden is overseeing an open southern border.
Immigration advocates have long criticized the public health order for the barriers it poses to asylum seekers. Under U.S. immigration law, migrants are legally permitted to seek asylum—a process they must begin either on American soil or at a port of entry. An immediate expulsion under Title 42 means that migrants can’t present their cases for asylum, risking a return to the dangerous conditions many of them have fled.
From the very beginning, public health officials have questioned the efficacy of Title 42 in curbing the spread of COVID-19, noting that the virus was already spreading in American communities and that migrants posed a comparatively minor risk. The CDC’s director of Global Migration and Quarantine, Martin Cetron, refused to support the Trump administration’s initial order. Lawyers at the Department of Health and Human Services and CBP pressured the CDC to issue the order, but the agency refused until former Vice President Mike Pence ordered the borders closed. Since that initial scuffle, more than three-quarters of Americans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, making the health order’s stated justification even more tenuous.”
“There is also the massive accountability issue here. The CBP has authorization to use force against not just foreign travelers at the border but also against Americans within 100 miles of border crossings, and yes, some of them have gotten overly violent with citizens, just like members of other law enforcement agencies. As a federal government agency, the CBP is supposed to operate with transparency about its behavior and the behavior of its agents.
The communications between officers can help establish intent to engage in misconduct or violent behavior. The ability of a government agent to conceal or delete these messages impacts the ability to investigate and, when necessary, prosecute bad behavior. And when the federal government fails to police misconduct on its own, the ability to delete these messages also makes it harder for outside media outlets or accountability organizations like CREW to monitor what’s going on.”
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been using the policy implemented at the onset of the pandemic to immediately expel migrants apprehended at the border, while progressives, pro-immigration activists and institutions such as the United Nations and Doctors Without Borders have rebuked the policy for shutting the door on thousands of desperate families and stranding them in unsafe camps with limited options.
Almost everyone in this debate recognizes that the necessity of Title 42 to prevent Covid transmission is a pretense. Public health experts have long contended that the rule is scientifically baseless. In fact, officials in the previous administration explored enacting the policy before the pandemic by using the flu and measles as justification. But the benefits of repealing or leaving in place Title 42 are not as straightforward as either border security or human rights advocates claim, which both sides would be wise to understand as they argue the political merits of the administration’s next moves. If approached smartly, rescinding Title 42 could lead to a more secure and prosperous America rather than the chaos that some warn of.
Proponents of keeping Title 42 in place assert that the quick expulsions are needed because they give officials greater ability to intercept and turn back more migrants. A recent report from the Migration Policy Institute notes that Title 42 expulsions can take as little as 15 minutes, while removals under standard immigration law, which require more procedures and paperwork, can often take an hour and half.
But the procedural steps that Title 42 bypasses are critical for the U.S.’s ability to target smuggling networks and discourage repeat crossings. This is why Border Patrol agents warned in a 2021 report from the Government Accountability Office that Title 42 “negatively affected enforcement” because the expulsions gave them no time to collect intelligence from migrants concerning nearby smugglers and other illegal activity.
The quick expulsions under Title 42 also cut corners in ways that prevent authorities from deterring migrants as they attempt to reenter the country. Before the pandemic, officials were able to use criminal prosecution, fines and other penalties to deter people from repeatedly crossing the border. This is because apprehended migrants were being processed under standard immigration law. Title 42, however, is a provision that exists under health law, which means that authorities are incapable of issuing penalties for reentry against migrants who are expelled under this provision. Border Patrol officials have stated that because of Title 42, migrants now try to cross multiple times a day. Since the pandemic expulsions began, repeat crossings jumped from 7 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020. It’s not unheard of for people to make as many as 30 attempts at crossing in just the span of a few weeks.”
“But even when considering all the security liabilities that Title 42 is responsible for, proponents of the policy are correct in saying that Biden needs a plan in place as he works to rescind the program. This plan must include interagency coordination that rapidly expands capacity as more families arrive to claim asylum. The administration must also work with humanitarian organizations to ensure that they’re in the best position possible to monitor and shelter migrants — and that their capacity is being fully utilized.
At the same time, advocates for ending Title 42 as well as the Biden administration must acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of people who are being expelled under the policy haven’t been families seeking asylum, but rather single adults fleeing extreme economic deprivation and in search of work. In February alone, more than 90 percent of Title 42 expulsions were single adults — the vast majority from Mexico. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has acknowledged this reality and urged Biden several times last year to work with him to expand guest worker programs for the U.S., Mexico and the Northern Triangle. Though the Biden Administration recently suggested a willingness to do so, it has not yet provided any details.
It’s critical that Biden’s post-Title 42 strategy includes increased access to guest worker programs. Extensive research shows that when expanded legal channels are paired with border security measures, illegal immigration rapidly declines. This was exactly what happened in the mid-1950s when the U.S. government expanded their agricultural worker program for Mexicans, which caused illegal immigration to collapse by 95 percent in just 5 years. Border Patrol saw the success of the agricultural program and warned that restricting it would cause “a large increase in the number of illegal alien entrants into the United States.” But in 1960, the Department of Labor did just that, causing employer use of the program to drop by 30 percent in just one year while Mexican apprehensions increased by 55 percent. When the program was eliminated altogether, apprehensions continued to grow, reaching nearly 1 million in 1976.”
“With a surge at the border and a shortage of workers, maintaining Title 42 has done nothing to solve either crisis — aside from creating more jobs for human smugglers. Though the Biden administration is right to rescind Title 42, chaos at the border will continue to drive headlines and the U.S. economy will limp forward until Biden prioritizes expanding legal channels for those in pursuit of a better life.”
“Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s short-lived policy of requiring state troopers to conduct secondary inspections of trucks crossing into Texas from Mexico cost the United States almost $9 billion in just 10 days, Axios reported Tuesday.
The policy, which Abbott enacted on April 6, snarled truck traffic at the border and led to a protest by Mexican truckers that stopped trade at some major crossings. On April 15, Abbott ended the double inspections, for which he’d received withering criticism from both sides of the border and the aisle, after striking deals with the governors of the four Mexican states that border Texas.
Per Axios, Abbott implemented the policy “in response to the Biden administration’s announcement that it would lift Title 42,” a Trump-era public health policy that denied migrants entry into the United States.
An analysis by the Perryman Group showed that the U.S. lost an estimated $8.97 billion in GDP due to delays at the border, while Texas alone lost $4.23 billion.”
“On his first day in the presidency, Biden began to tackle some of the harsh immigration measures imposed by Trump. He lifted Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, which prevented citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the U.S. He signed an executive order halting construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. And he sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. Among other things, that bill set out to create a path to citizenship for undocumented people, clear backlogs in the family-based immigration system, and improve immigration courts.
However, many of those early wins—and supposed reversals of Trump’s policies—came with asterisks. Biden was right to rescind Trump’s “Muslim ban,” but nearly all families affected by the policy remained separated because of visa application backlogs. He was right to halt construction of the border wall (which was never going to work), but his administration failed to stop Trump’s land grab lawsuits and the federal government continued to seize private property along the U.S.-Mexico border through eminent domain. That ambitious immigration bill has gone nowhere.
Since taking office, Biden has cherry-picked which of Trump’s most controversial policies he’ll keep and which he’ll discard. The ones he’s kept are cruel, counterproductive, and are failing to please either side of the political aisle.
Key among them is Title 42, which critics say violates longstanding U.S. asylum law. The policy was first imposed by the Trump administration and allows Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to expel migrants on public health grounds. Deprived of the opportunity to present their cases for asylum, migrants are very often returned to dangerous communities and countries. Biden has kept Title 42 in place, even though it was the brainchild of notoriously anti-immigration Trump adviser Stephen Miller. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have questioned its efficacy as a COVID-19 mitigation measure from the very beginning.
CBP expelled over 1 million people under Title 42 in 2021, with over 7,000 migrants getting kidnapped and attacked by cartels and Mexican authorities post-expulsion since Inauguration Day. The Biden administration has also used Title 42 to deport thousands of Haitians to Haiti, even though many of the deportees hadn’t lived in Haiti for years and were actually coming from South America. Some Biden appointees have suggested that the president’s continuation of Title 42 “is largely based on optics—that it’s staying in place because of concerns that ending it will fuel perceptions of a chaotic border.”
But Biden’s critics falsely claim that the Southern border is open. It’s true that CBP reported a 21-year high of 1.66 million migrant encounters at the border in fiscal year 2021. The majority—61 percent—of those apprehensions resulted in Title 42 expulsions, and the figure fails to account for repeat crossings. “Perversely, continuing this Trump policy has also given ammunition to the hard-right nativists, because it has the unintended consequence of inflating the count of U.S. border crossings,” writes The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell. Over one-quarter of encountered individuals were apprehended multiple times by CBP, Rampell notes—”nearly quadruple the share in 2019.”
All the while, inefficiency has plagued day-to-day aspects of the U.S. immigration system. Two years into the pandemic, 60 percent of U.S. embassies and consulates are still partially or completely closed for visa processing. Nearly 440,000 immigrant visa applicants whose cases are “documentarily complete” are still waiting for visa appointments (the State Department scheduled just 26,605 appointments for this month). The nation’s refugee intake hit a record low in fiscal year 2021 and our numbers aren’t on pace to be any better in 2022. Legal immigration collapsed under Trump; it hasn’t rebounded under Biden.
All that said, it would be unfair to say that Biden’s immigration policy has been a complete failure. The administration evacuated a staggering number of Afghans after their country fell to the Taliban in August. Visa processing has been imperfect and many vulnerable people are still trapped in Afghanistan, but the Biden administration smartly introduced a private refugee sponsorship program that allows U.S. citizens to help support and resettle evacuated Afghans. Biden has rescinded some Trump-era rules that needlessly slowed down visa and work permit processing, and recently added 20,000 visas to this fiscal year’s cap for the nonimmigrant nonagricultural worker H-2B visa. The administration restarted the Central American Minors program, which allows at-risk children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to come to the U.S. as refugees.”
“Thousands of Haitians are indefinitely trapped in Mexico. They face pervasive racism, and many are unable to work, have no access to medical care, and are targets for criminals. Most have arrived in the last year, hoping that the Biden presidency would open up an opportunity for them to finally seek protection in the US.
Those hopes were in vain. Now, Mexico is seeing a sharp uptick in Haitian asylum applicants — a surge it is unequipped to manage — all because the United States has offloaded its immigration responsibilities onto its neighbor.
The Biden administration continues to enforce pandemic-related border restrictions that have kept out the vast majority of asylum seekers, including Haitians; it’s deported nearly 14,000 Haitians since September 2021 despite their country’s political and economic crises. As a result, many Haitians face a difficult choice: Try to cross the US border and risk getting deported to Haiti if caught, or attempt to make a life for themselves in Mexico, at least temporarily.”
“President Joe Biden did allow more than 100,000 Haitians already living in the US before July 29, 2021, to apply for Temporary Protected Status, which allows them to live and work in the US on a temporary basis. But he has largely pursued a strategy of deterrence and exclusion with respect to Haitian migrants outside US borders, despite the fact that their country is still reeling from President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination and the one-two punch of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake and a tropical storm last summer.”
“The US could have made other choices that would have eased the burden on Mexico. For example, the Biden administration could have expanded TPS for Haitians or allowed them to enter the US temporarily on what’s called “parole,” a kind of temporary protection from deportation. It could have ended its deportation flights to Haiti and its restrictive border policies, or at least created broader exemptions to them. Instead, it has dumped its responsibilities to Haitians onto Mexico, which is ill-equipped to give them the kind of support they need.”
“There was a time when Mexican vendors sold water jugs with a map glued to the side. The map displayed various mountain peaks, and migrants were directed to follow the promontories to highways where they would be picked up. Towers made that impossible. A 10-mile journey became a 20-mile march, and migrants increasingly relied on smugglers to guide them through arroyos, along mountainsides, weaving a path beyond sight of the towers. This is what Boyce and Chambers have termed CBP’s “corral apparatus,” an intentional strategy to funnel migrants into “a narrower corridor of movement” where they’re more likely to become isolated, confused, and where “physiological strain, suffering and mortality are likely to be greatest.” The very point of the surveillance tower placement, they contend, was to increase the difficulty of the journey.
“An initial strategy was to channel people into certain areas, to funnel them to a place where it’s easier to apprehend them,” James Lewis, who had advised on SBInet, told me. “That’s not good from a crosser perspective because they’re forced into more inhospitable areas, and the casualty rate goes up.”
This corralling has an official name, it’s called “prevention through deterrence.” The Clinton administration devised this strategy and CBP still practices it today — consciously or not. During the program’s first stages, in the mid-1990s, the U.S. raised walls near border cities with the intent to push migrants into the desert. Metrics like “a shift in flow” of migratory routes and “fee increase by smugglers” were signs of effectiveness. And deaths were an expected outcome. “Illegal entrants crossing through remote, uninhabited expanses of land and sea along the border,” the policy said, will “find themselves in mortal danger.” The government likely figured this would be an added deterrent, as stories of dead fathers and siblings filtered back through migrant networks. That is not what happened. Instead, as people left broken economies and rampant violence for the U.S., the death toll along the border soared and still the migrants came.”
“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s border-control crusade is overwhelming court systems, leaving detainees stuck in jails for weeks or even months without due process, and generally isn’t resulting in many convictions.
Abbott launched “Operation Lone Star” in March. Border enforcement is ordinarily the federal government’s job, but Abbott decided to deploy the state’s Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to “deny Mexican Cartels and other smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas.”
Instead, according to media reports from multiple outlets, suspected illegal immigrants caught at the border are being arrested for misdemeanor trespassing and then being held in jail. And then…nothing, frequently. The Wall Street Journal reports that only 3 percent of the 1,500 people who have been arrested under Operation Lone Star have been convicted, all with guilty pleas of misdemeanor trespassing.
Texas does not have the authority to deport any of these people, so the rest are either still detained in jail or being released back into the community—the very outcome Abbott insists he was trying to stop.”
“Lacking any ability to deport these immigrants and apparently not being able to charge most of them with crimes other than trespassing and some property crimes (because they likely are not the drug cartel smugglers and human traffickers Abbott claims they are), many of them are just sitting in pretrial detention for weeks or months. Normally a person arrested in Texas for a nonviolent misdemeanor would be released or out on bail quickly, in a matter of days at most. That’s not happening here.”
“Meanwhile the courts on these border counties are being overwhelmed. Texas Monthly reports that Kinney County (population: 3,659), the ground zero for a lot of these arrests, hasn’t had a jury trial in seven years. Kinney officials have filed charges against those they’ve detained, more than 1,000 migrants, but it’s not entirely clear how they’ll be able to arrange trials.
Abbott’s crusade comes with costs, and they’re considerable. Abbott shifted $250 million dollars from elsewhere in the budget (including the prison system itself) to fund this program. And the state legislature directed another $3 billion his way for border enforcement. Officials in Kinney County calculate that actually prosecuting all these immigrants will cost them $5 million, but Operation Lone Star’s funding is sending only $3.19 million their way, according to Texas Monthly.”
“During his early days in office, Biden seemed on track to dismantle the Trump administration’s most restrictive immigration policies. He ended the travel ban on people from mostly Muslim-majority countries, halted most new border wall construction, and reversed the “zero-tolerance policy” that enabled family separations and the “Remain in Mexico” program that kept asylum seekers waiting in Mexico for court hearings in the US. He also released an expansive reform proposal with a path to citizenship for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the US as its centerpiece.
Then, within weeks of his inauguration, record numbers of unaccompanied migrant children began arriving from Central America, and Biden’s border policies came under scrutiny from both the left and the right.
Suddenly on the defensive, the administration’s posture shifted. It reopened temporary, jail-like facilities — the same “cages” that drew condemnation in 2019 under Trump — to house migrant children. On a June trip to Guatemala, in what would become a common refrain for US officials, Vice President Kamala Harris told migrants, “Don’t come.””
“Biden’s primary tool to manage the border has been a controversial policy that one ex-Trump official, referring to the architect of the former president’s restrictive immigration policy, called a “Stephen Miller special.”
In March 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, Trump used a special legal authority called Title 42, a section of the Public Health Service Act that allows the US government to temporarily block noncitizens from entering the US in the interest of public health. Though Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists initially opposed the policy, arguing that there was no legitimate public health rationale behind it, then-Vice President Mike Pence ordered them to implement it anyway.
Under both Trump and Biden, the policy has allowed US immigration officials at the southern border to rapidly expel migrants more than 1.1 million times, without a hearing before an immigration judge. (The exact number of people expelled is unknown because many have been caught trying to cross the border multiple times.)
Even when a federal judge recently blocked the policy from being used to expel families, the Biden administration chose to appeal the ruling, and has continued (with court permission) to enforce the policy while litigation continues.
Biden has carved out some exemptions. Unaccompanied children and people subject to the “Remain in Mexico” policy under Trump are allowed to enter the US while their cases are adjudicated. The Mexican government has also refused to take back some Haitian and Central American families, who have been allowed to enter. But everyone else, including people facing real persecution and danger in their home countries or in Mexico, can be expelled.”
“Haiti has been in a state of upheaval since at least July, when Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated and, amid the power vacuum, gang violence sharply escalated. When a magnitude 7.2 earthquake and tropical depression devastated Haiti in August, the country’s political crisis was compounded by a humanitarian one.
About 30,000 Haitian migrants arrived in Del Rio, Texas, last month, setting up a temporary encampment under the international bridge that connects the US and Mexico. There has also been a dramatic increase in Haitians attempting to cross the Caribbean by boat to reach the US. More than 1,500 such migrants were intercepted by the US Coast Guard over the last year, up from about 400 in the previous year.
Many of the Haitians seeking refuge in the US lived in Latin America for years after fleeing earlier crises in Haiti, including an even bigger 2010 earthquake. But the Covid-19 recession, racial discrimination in Latin America, the realization that going home was no longer an option, and the perception that the US would offer them humanitarian protection all played a role in their decision to move north.
At first, the Biden administration did offer protection. Mayorkas decided to extend Temporary Protected Status — typically used to enable citizens of countries that have experienced violent conflict or natural disasters to live and work in the US — for Haitians who arrived in the US prior to July 29. This offer was designed to cover those who fled the country in the aftermath of the political crisis stemming from Moïse’s killing.
At the time, Mayorkas said “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic” had made it dangerous for Haitians to return home.
But the administration maintained a strict stance toward those arriving by boat. Mayorkas said in July that any migrants intercepted off US shores will be turned back or, if they express fear of returning home, repatriated to a third country.”
“Most of the Haitians who were staying in the camp have since been expelled. The US has sent 7,000 back to Haiti since September 19 through the Title 42 policy, despite continued turmoil on the ground. Others voluntarily returned to Mexico to avoid being sent back to Haiti or were allowed to enter the US, at least temporarily.
It’s not clear how US authorities determined which Haitians were to be expelled and which permitted to stay. Some 12,000 Haitians are currently facing deportation proceedings in which they will be able to make their case before an immigration judge for why they should be allowed to remain in the US, via asylum or other humanitarian avenues.”
“Biden has sought to provide legal status to at least some portion of America’s more than 10 million undocumented immigrants.
He backed Democrats’ latest but so far unsuccessful attempt to include a pathway to citizenship for certain categories of immigrants — including DREAMers who came to the US as children, TPS recipients, farmworkers, and essential workers — in a budget reconciliation bill. His administration also recently published a proposed regulation seeking to codify protections for DREAMers who have been allowed to live and work in the US under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is meant to guard against ongoing legal challenges.
Biden has also attempted to expand legal aid resources for immigrants and limit the reach of immigration enforcement inside the US. The administration recently launched an initiative to provide unaccompanied children facing deportation with a government-funded lawyer in eight cities across the US, and has sought to narrow the categories of undocumented immigrants who should be prioritized for arrest, issuing new US ICE guidance meant to focus resources on those who pose public safety threats. And on Tuesday, the administration ended mass worksite raids, which the Trump administration used to arrest hundreds of undocumented immigrants at once.
Such policies, Psaki said during a September 20 briefing, show that Biden remains “absolutely committed” to “putting in place long-overdue measures to fix our immigration system — to make it more moral, humane, and workable.”
But his actions on the border have told a different story: a push to improve the lives of only certain immigrants who are already integrated into American society, while keeping others out of sight and out of mind — even if that means embracing policies designed by the Trump administration.”