Sens. Sinema, Kelly have 'deep concerns' about ending border health policy

U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressing “deep concerns” about the looming end of Title 42, a Trump-era policy that’s been used to expel migrants more than 2.4 million times.

Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., joined the two Arizona Democrats in detailing their worries over the expected impact that the end of the policy will have on border communities, migrants, nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and Department of Homeland Security employees.

The senators pointed to an expected influx of migrants being released into communities as well as a projected strain of resources for Border Patrol and NGOs once the restriction is lifted.

“While Title 42 expulsion totals reflect repeat attempts to enter the United States, a sharp end to Title 42 would nonetheless significantly increase the number of migrants apprehended along the Southwest Border under Title 8,” the senators wrote in the letter.

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The pandemic-era health policy allows border officials to rapidly expel migrants and closes official ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border to asylum seekers, with a few exceptions made through humanitarian parole. Title 42 was invoked in March 2020 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

On Nov. 15, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., vacated the policy, describing it as "arbitrary and capricious” in violation of federal law. Shortly after his ruling, Sullivan granted the Biden administration five weeks to prepare for the end of the border restriction, which is set to end Dec. 21.

The senators sent the letter three days after Sullivan’s ruling.

A young migrant looks through the border wall as migrants seeking asylum march through the streets of Nogales, Sonora, to protest Title 42, Border Patrol abuse against migrants, and lack of access to health care in Nogales. The protest on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, followed the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
A young migrant looks through the border wall as migrants seeking asylum march through the streets of Nogales, Sonora, to protest Title 42, Border Patrol abuse against migrants, and lack of access to health care in Nogales. The protest on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, followed the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

Kelly, D-Ariz., and Sinema, D-Ariz., have long urged the federal government to better prepare for the termination of the policy. In April, Sinema and Kelly, alongside a bipartisan group of senators, introduced legislation that would require the Biden administration to have a comprehensive plan in place before rescinding Title 42.

“The Administration’s continued failures on the border puts Arizona communities, and our national security, at risk," Sinema said during a recent U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs hearing.

"It is obvious that the current strategy being implemented at our Southwest Border is not working, and change is necessary.”

Migrants seeking asylum march through the streets of Nogales, Sonora to protest Title 42, Border Patrol abuse against migrants, and lack of access to health care in Nogales. The protest on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, followed the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
Migrants seeking asylum march through the streets of Nogales, Sonora to protest Title 42, Border Patrol abuse against migrants, and lack of access to health care in Nogales. The protest on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, followed the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

In March, Sinema and Kelly secured funding that includes $150 million for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program that helps NGOs and communities mitigate the costs related to an influx of migrants, including food, shelter and transportation.

When the policy was slated to be lifted in May, DHS was planning for a scenario, which was the most drastic, that projected 18,000 encounters a day with migrants along the southwestern border. That same month, President Joe Biden tried to rescind the health policy, but a federal judge in Louisiana subsequently blocked the administration’s efforts, leaving the policy in place indefinitely.

Border Patrol is unprepared to meet the increase in processing and placement burdens that are expected after Title 42 is rescinded and has no viable plans, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General.

Protesters lift a cross with the words "End Title 42" writing on it during a vigil near the DeConcini port of entry for the continuation of Title 42 on Monday, May 23, 2022, in Nogales, Mexico. A federal judge in Louisiana ruled that Title 42, a Trump administration era public health order, must stay in place, making it difficult for migrants in Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S.
Protesters lift a cross with the words "End Title 42" writing on it during a vigil near the DeConcini port of entry for the continuation of Title 42 on Monday, May 23, 2022, in Nogales, Mexico. A federal judge in Louisiana ruled that Title 42, a Trump administration era public health order, must stay in place, making it difficult for migrants in Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S.

Advocates and asylum seekers have denounced the policy, which has forced migrants to wait in Mexico for months, facing discrimination and dangerous conditions. The border restriction has led to reports of people facing murder, kidnapping, rape and torture as they’re forced to wait for asylum, according to a Human Rights First report.

On Nov. 21, Arizona, alongside 14 other states, filed a motion in federal court seeking to prevent the end of Title 42. The states filed a motion to intervene, asking Sullivan to allow them to become part of the lawsuit regarding the health order.

On Nov. 22, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called on Mayorkas to resign or face investigations that could lead to his impeachment next year.

Have a news tip or story idea about the border and its communities? Contact the reporter at josecastaneda@arizonarepublic.com or connect with him on Twitter @joseicastaneda.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kelly, Sinema express 'deep concerns' over looming end of Title 42