The Biden administration has been forced to make a lot of tough calls in contending with COVID, not all of them to widespread acclaim. From demanding a closer examination of the virus’ origins to pushing for a vaccine mandate for large private companies, we’ve supported his robust use of executive authority to deal with an extraordinary crisis.
Yet there is one ostensible pandemic-response decision where the president has been way off the mark: continuing his predecessor’s so-called Title 42 expulsion policy, which absurdly invokes public health as a blanket excuse to authorize the removal of migrants who are attempting to apply for asylum at our southern border.
The law itself specifies that U.S. officials can arrest the entry of people and goods in order to prevent the introduction of communicable diseases. Perhaps someone should alert the administration that COVID-19 was long ago introduced here, and in fact made the United States its global epicenter. As at least one federal judge has already pointed out, preventing entry is also a dramatically different power than expelling someone who has already entered.
Public health experts across the board have said that the order serves no clear purpose. Many of the migrants that are being expelled aren’t even being tested for coronavirus before they’re sent away, defeating its flimsy premise in practice. Yet Biden officials are still clinging to the farcical argument that the provision, which the president has extended indefinitely, is not an immigration measure but a health one, with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas cynically telling a reporter that “it is not an immigration policy that we in this administration would embrace. But we view it as a public health imperative.” The administration has continued fighting to defend the order in federal court.
During his campaign, Biden pledged to both return some reason and humanity to the immigration system and to follow the science in setting pandemic-response policies. By keeping Title 42 in place, he is managing to break both promises at once.