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Pressure builds to end pandemic-era border expulsions

Schumer: ‘Title 42 goes against everything this country stands for’

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer at a news conference earlier this week.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer at a news conference earlier this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic lawmakers upped pressure on the White House to scrap Title 42, a public health directive used to expel migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, noting a rollback of other pandemic restrictions along with a court decision last week limiting the policy.

In a call with reporters Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said he was “deeply disappointed” with the Biden administration’s continued use of Title 42, first begun under the Trump administration to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

“More than a year since the Biden administration took office, it’s unacceptable that this policy continues to be used indiscriminately,” he said. “Title 42 goes against everything this country stands for.” 

The mounting pressure to end Title 42 among Democrats and immigrant advocates comes on the heels of a federal appeals court’s decision last Friday to allow the continued use of the policy but bar the government from sending migrants to countries where they would likely be persecuted or tortured. 

It also reflects critics’ bewilderment that Title 42 lives on as a public health mechanism even as other COVID-19 restrictions disappear across the country. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its indoor masking guidelines for a majority of American communities. 

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a top voice on immigration, suggested the CDC continues using Title 42 at the administration’s behest. 

“I have no doubt that if the administration decided that, in fact, it would no longer seek to use this policy, that the CDC would follow,” he said. 

When President Joe Biden first took office, his administration stopped using Title 42 to turn away unaccompanied migrant children — a decision that prompted thousands of minors to enter the country, forcing the government to scramble to arrange proper care. Republicans have uniformly opposed further rollbacks of the order, raising the specter of political backlash if the policy is scrapped. 

But Menendez said the administration has had ample time to prepare for processing another migration increase if Title 42 is completely lifted. Currently, it is used to expel mostly single adults along with some families. 

“There has been time to figure out how one appropriately processes those who are seeking asylum under our law, to do the lawful thing,” he said. 

The CDC order associated with Title 42 is renewed every 60 days, with the next renewal date in early April. But the Biden administration faces a more pressing dilemma in light of a separate court decision Friday, from a district judge in Texas, ordering the administration to resume expulsions of unaccompanied children by Friday night. 

“We had assumed the administration would fight that ruling and would have already sought to stay in that ruling and appeal — they have not done so,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly deferred questions on Title 42 to the CDC, with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas even expressing his own distaste for the policy. The White House has largely done the same: During a press briefing last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited an ongoing CDC decision-making process. 

“That is a decision for the CDC to make,” she said, noting that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said she was reviewing the decision. “So I can’t get ahead of any decision she makes, but she is looking at that, and that’s an assessment they make from the CDC.”

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