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Pressure Grows On Biden To Reverse Title 42

May 27, 2021

Blog Post

Max J. Rosenthal, HIAS.org

A family of asylum seekers from Colombia boards a Border Patrol vehicle in Yuma, Arizona, after turning themselves over to Border Patrol agents on May 12, 2021.

(Apu Gomes/Getty Images)

Recent weeks have seen good news about the supposed crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Biden administration has taken important steps to allow asylum seekers into the United States and release unaccompanied children who try to cross the border and end up in government custody. Despite this progress, however, the administration has not reversed a draconian Trump-era policy that is driving much of the border problem.

The use of that policy, called Title 42, is now gaining wider attention — and earning more and more criticism.

“Title 42” is part of a public health law passed in 1944. Last year, the Trump administration claimed that law gave the government the ability to close the border to “nonessential” travel to stop the spread of COVID-19. In practice, that has meant expelling tens of thousands of people attempting to enter the country to seek asylum, as is their legal right. Meanwhile, health experts have said barring asylum seekers does nothing to halt the pandemic. 

In the year since Title 42 was enacted, HIAS and other humanitarian organizations have demanded the policy be reversed, especially after President Biden took office. Now a wider chorus of voices — including scientists, diplomats, doctors, lawyers and politicians alongside refugee groups — is demanding the new administration take action.

Recent media coverage has pointed out the deadly effects of Title 42. Because asylum seekers know they will be rejected at the border, many are attempting dangerous illegal crossings to try to reach safety — often repeatedly.

The Marshall Project, a criminal-justice news site, recently wrote about the effects of those repeated crossings. Its conclusion: Title 42 is causing migrants to attempt more crossing in more dangerous situations, leading to more deaths. Even border officials have acknowledged Title 42 contributed to the spike in border crossings earlier this year. The Los Angeles Times found the policy has also fueled a boom in kidnappings, extortion, and other crimes aimed at migrants.

Small wonder, then, that more and more people are now calling for the end of Title 42. Earlier this week, two physicians who work for the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for border security and immigration, wrote a letter to Congress calling on the administration to reverse the policy.

“The CDC's top scientists and expert epidemiologists found no legitimate basis … for implementing Title 42 even at the time of its implementation at the beginning of the pandemic,” wrote Drs. Scott Allen and Pamela McPherson, who work in the department’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “There is even less of a public health justification now, when, more than a year later, arriving asylum seekers could be easily screened and tested and currently those over 16 vaccinated in a way that protects the public health.”

Fillippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, also released a statement urging the reversal of Title 42, pointing out the policy’s “serious humanitarian consequences in northern Mexico.”

For now, unfortunately, the Biden administration appears committed to keeping the border closed. Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, confirmed as recently as Wednesday that Title 42 will remain in place until the administration believes the public health threat is over.