(CNN Spanish) — Thanks to public health policy, known as Title 42, border officials can immediately expel migrants entering through Canada and Mexico into the United States. Unaccompanied migrant minors are exempt from this measure, and a Texas court ruling earlier this month put pressure on the Biden administration to ensure this was followed.
The disputed policy was established under the Trump administration in 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, as a public health order. And it is still valid. Under Title 42, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) prohibits the entry of certain individuals who “potentially pose a health risk.” Either due to previously announced travel restrictions or having entered the country illegally in order to “evade medical screening measures”.
According to CBP, individuals who are detained will not be held in congregate areas for processing and will be immediately removed to their country of last transit.
A possible change in Title 42
Now, as the pandemic landscape has evolved, discussions in the Biden administration about suspending Title 42 have gained momentum, three sources familiar with the matter told CNN. In that sense, the administration is preparing for a possible mass migration to the border between Mexico and the United States.
Internal documents show estimates of how many people are within hours or days of the US-Mexico border who might plan to immigrate to the US, according to one of the sources. Those estimates, first reported by Axios, include a possible 170,000 people who could reach the southern US border and some 25,000 migrants already in shelters in Mexico, one source added.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also created a “Southwest Border Coordination Center” at its headquarters to align the various agencies. DHS Deputy Secretary John Tien asked department staff to volunteer at the border in an email sent to all employees, another source said. In a statement, White House spokesman Vedant Patel said the administration is “doing (its) due diligence to prepare for potential border changes. That’s good governance in action.”
The US Border Patrol made more than 158,000 apprehensions at the US southern border in February 2022, according to recently released agency data. These figures include people who attempted to cross more than once. Arrests are expected to increase as the warmer months approach, as in previous years.
Why has Title 42 been extended?
Processing a family under Title 42 “generally takes 10 to 15 minutes and is done mostly outdoors,” David Shahoulian, DHS assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, told federal court in August 2021.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined at the time that the removal of certain citizens is necessary to protect public health. This is because DHS “simply cannot safely process all non-citizen families under the current circumstances, and especially in the event of a large-scale influx,” Shahoulian’s statement read.
The Homeland Security official also indicated that the United States is facing a record number of non-citizens, including families, at the border, “causing border facilities to fill beyond their normal operating capacity” affecting the ability to apply measures against covid -19, like physical distancing. “As well [se] is experiencing a significant increase in the rates of non-citizens testing positive for COVID-19,” it said.
Immigrant Advocates Against Title 42
After the extension of the public health policy was announced in August, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with other immigrant advocacy groups, said it would go back to court to end the Title 42.
“We gave the Biden administration more than enough time to fix any issues left behind by the Trump administration, but it has left us no choice but to go back to court. Families’ lives are at stake,” said the attorney for ACLU Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in this case.
“We’ve gotten thousands of families safe through the waiver process that we negotiated, but the goal was always to end Title 42 policy, not minimize it,” Gelernt said Monday.
“The Biden administration knows full well that maintaining Title 42 will not stop the spread of COVID-19 or prevent people who are literally fleeing for their lives from seeking safety in the US,” said Noah Gottschalk, Head of Policy. Oxfam America Global, in a statement. Oxfam America is among the groups challenging the order.
Tensions between pro-migrant organizations and the administration have risen in recent weeks as it became clear the public health order would remain in place.
Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.