Is it time to end COVID-era immigration restrictions?

·Senior Editor
·7 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The Biden administration announced earlier this month that it will end a controversial pandemic-era immigration rule that has allowed the United States to suspend asylum rights and quickly turn away migrants at the southern border.

Under normal circumstances, asylum laws grant anyone attempting to enter the country the right to seek protection in the U.S. if they can credibly claim they face persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or other circumstances. But in March 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the Trump administration invoked a provision known as Title 42, which grants health authorities the right to block entry into the country in situations where a communicable disease poses a “serious danger.”

Since then, more than 1.7 million migrants have been turned away under Title 42 without the opportunity to make an asylum claim. Under President Biden, the rule has largely remained in place, with the notable exception that his administration has not applied it in cases involving unaccompanied children. More recently, border officials were reportedly told to consider exempting Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war from Title 42.

In announcing the plan to end Title 42, the CDC said COVID-based limitations on immigration are no longer necessary in the “current public health landscape.” The change will go into effect at the end of May. In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security plans to implement a series of new strategies to manage an expected increase in migrants coming to the border after Title 42 is lifted.

Why there’s debate

Many Democrats and immigration activists have strongly opposed Title 42 since it was first implemented two years ago, and criticism has only intensified as the U.S. has rolled back much of its emergency response to the pandemic.

A number of public health experts have argued that there is “no basis in science” for denying asylum seekers the legal right to have their claims considered, and advocacy groups have documented “grave human rights abuses” suffered by vulnerable people who have been turned away at the border. Others have accused anti-immigrant lawmakers of using the pandemic as a pretense for the U.S. to shirk its legal and moral responsibility to be a safe haven for asylum seekers.

Republicans have almost uniformly denounced Biden for his plan to get rid of Title 42, a move they say will cause an unmanageable increase in border crossings in the coming months. That view is shared by a number of moderate Democrats, who worry that border authorities are not prepared to humanely manage a spike in migrant arrivals. There are also concerns about potential political blowback for Democrats. A recent poll found that 56 percent of registered voters disapprove of the decision to end Title 42, making it Biden’s “most unpopular decision so far.”

What’s next

Disagreement over Title 42 has put the fate of the next round of COVID relief funding into question. A $10 billion bipartisan bill to pay for testing, vaccines and COVID treatments appeared to be on the brink of passing last week until Senate Republicans — joined by a handful of Democrats — insisted that an amendment to reinstate Title 42 be added to the bill. The legislation is now in limbo while the two sides work to resolve the stalemate.

Perspectives

Title 42 does nothing to protect Americans from COVID

“This is a selective ban on a selective group of people who are primarily people of color, and it just does not make any sense from a public health point of view, in terms of providing additional protection.” — Ronald Waldman, global health expert, to The New Republic

The U.S. hasn’t done enough to prepare for an influx of migrants that will come when Title 42 ends

“For two years, the U.S. government has used an increasingly shaky finger in the dike to halt a tsunami of undocumented migrants at the Mexican border. That recourse — a pandemic-related public health order that allows asylum seekers to be swiftly expelled — is crumbling under judicial scrutiny and political pressure from Democrats and is about to be voided. The Biden administration, bracing for the fallout, has done too little to prepare.” — Editorial, Washington Post

Biden is inviting more illegal immigration

“Most presidents … drain much of the inflow of illegal immigrants back out of the country. But Biden’s policy is like one of those rivers that don’t flow to the sea but instead head inland and evaporate. The administration doesn’t drain illegal border crossers back where they came from but lets them leak into the U.S., disperse, and disappear into the general population.” — Hugo Gurdon, Washington Examiner

America has a legal and moral obligation to allow people to make asylum claims

“Biden needs to restore the United States’ core humanitarian values to our asylum system, so cruelly corrupted and exploited by Donald Trump and his minions. The desperation of migrants fleeing violence knows no boundaries, skin color, nor place of origin.” — Marcela García, Boston Globe

Ending Title 42 could be a step toward a more humane and orderly immigration system

“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.” — Sam Peak, Politico

Any upcoming crisis at the border will be the result of decades of inaction by Congress

“A responsible political culture would address the large influx of people attempting to come here extralegally by creating a clear, orderly, and fair process for people to come legally. They could honor the most essential thread of the American story while beefing up the security of our immigration and naturalization process. But we do not have a responsible political culture.” — Jack Holmes, Esquire

Biden is being hypocritical when it comes to COVID emergency policies

“You have to point out the irony that while the administration is saying there's no emergency anymore to justify Title 42 for the reasons of COVID, there still is enough of emergency so that we can give student loan forbearance for another several months through the end of August and there still is an emergency that we can require more mandates or masking and other things so there's that unfortunate contradiction.” — Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal

The fight over Title 42 is about political opportunism, not immigration policy

“That’s an age-old dilemma: asking people to back good policy (at least in the eyes of some) even if it seems bad politics. Republicans clearly see it as bad policy but, for them, good politics.” — Michael Smolens, San Diego Union-Tribune

Title 42 is illegal once the public health rationale for keeping it goes away

“For a group that purports to care deeply about law and order, GOP legislators seem hell-bent on disregarding U.S. law. … In one fell swoop, these lawmakers are attempting to throw out U.S. and international laws that protect the right to seek asylum, strip the CDC of its discretion on when and how to implement a Title 42 order, and disregard the fact that this provision cannot legally be used simply to manage migrants.” — Editorial, New York Daily News

No president should have the power to overrule congressional laws indefinitely

“That Title 42 has proven to be a useful weapon against illegal immigration does not mean that it can be maintained outside of its legal context. It can’t. Our presidents are not dictators, and they are not allowed to scour the statute books for workarounds.” — Charles C.W. Cooke, National Review

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