Democratic lawmakers criticized the Biden administration’s decision to exempt only unaccompanied migrant children from a pandemic policy that closed the border to asylum claims, calling on the administration to shield families from the order as well.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order early Saturday finding it unnecessary to use a public health directive known as Title 42 to turn away migrant children who arrive at the border without their parents. In place since March 2020, the directive allows border agents to rapidly “expel” migrants who cross the southwest border without considering their claims for asylum.
In the wake of the CDC order, issued in response to ongoing litigation brought by the state of Texas, congressional Democrats expressed disappointment the administration did not go further.
In a joint statement Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., chair of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called it “perplexing” to keep Title 42 in place while COVID-19 cases remain low.
“While we recognize that the Administration made the right choice to prevent unaccompanied children from being expelled, it is wrong that they made the decision to continue sending families with minor children back to persecution and torture,” they said. “With vaccines and testing widely available, there is no public health benefit to sending asylum seekers back to harm.”
Rep. Raul Ruiz, a medical doctor who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said ending Title 42 was “long overdue.”
“Transmission rates are low, there are safe testing and quarantining protocols, and vaccines are readily available. End Trump’s Title 42 now,” the California Democrat said in a statement Saturday.
The weekend statements reflect the latest push from congressional leaders opposing the border expulsion policy. Schumer, joined by Menendez, said on a call with reporters last week the expulsion policy “goes against everything this country stands for.”
The CDC order officially exempting unaccompanied migrant children comes in response to a Texas federal judge’s March 4 ruling ordering the administration to begin applying Title 42 to children.
The Biden administration had already suspended Title 42 as it applies to unaccompanied minors soon after taking office. However, earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman of the Northern District of Texas, a Trump appointee, found the administration did not sufficiently explain its reasoning for exempting children from the border directive.
“The President has (arbitrarily) excepted COVID-19 positive unaccompanied alien children from Title 42 procedures — which were purposed with preventing the spread of COVID-19. As a result, border states such as Texas now uniquely bear the brunt of the ramifications,” Pittman wrote.
The judge paused the effect of his ruling for seven days, which expired at midnight Saturday, shortly before the CDC released its revised order.
The new order explained that COVID-19 mitigation protocols implemented since last year have limited the risk of the virus spreading through government facilities holding migrant children. According to the CDC, the majority of migrant children are tested for COVID-19 when picked up by border agents, and then again when sent to the federal refugee agency that takes custody of unaccompanied children.
Consistent with national trends, the COVID-19 positivity rate among migrant children has also declined, the CDC order said.
While doubling down on its decision to exempt unaccompanied children, the Biden administration continued to defend its ability to expel single adults and migrant families under Title 42 in a separate court battle in Washington, D.C.
On March 4, hours before Pittman released his order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed part of a lower court ruling to uphold the legality of Title 42. However, the appeals court panel said migrants could not be expelled to countries where they would likely be persecuted.