Biden faces political pressure over border expulsion order

The CDC has yet to announce whether it will renew the pandemic-era directive

A Customs and Border Protection vehicle patrols the border wall in Texas in 2019.  (Jinitzail Hernández/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A Customs and Border Protection vehicle patrols the border wall in Texas in 2019. (Jinitzail Hernández/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 31, 2022 at 5:16pm

The Biden administration is facing increasing heat from Capitol Hill as it prepares for a potential end to restrictions that have closed U.S. borders to asylum seekers for more than two years. 

Immigrant advocates and some Democrats pushed for the Biden administration to rescind the pandemic-era border directive, known as Title 42, in the days leading up to the order’s March 30 expiration date. 

The public health directive, initially issued under the Trump administration by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and continuously renewed since then, has allowed border agents to turn back migrants who crossed the border without considering their asylum claims.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a key leader on immigration efforts in Congress, called on the administration to rescind the policy. 

“The truth is Title 42 is a failed border security policy,” he said in a statement Thursday. 

On Wednesday, several news outlets reported the administration was considering a plan to phase out the directive in stages, with a planned full termination in May. 

Menendez said if those reports were accurate, the administration “should not wait nearly two months before ending Title 42 in its entirety.”

“Waiting any longer will just put even more vulnerable migrants in harm’s way,” he continued.

The Biden administration has yet to confirm those plans or make a formal announcement. 

White House spokesperson Vedant Patel deferred comment to the CDC, where spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said the agency reassesses the Title 42 order every 60 days and the agency was “finalizing our current assessment and will release more information later this week.” 

On Thursday, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters that lifting the policy will be “a decision the CDC will make.” 

“That said, of course we are preparing for contingencies,” she said. “Our goal is to process migrants in a safe and orderly manner.”

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., on Thursday said administration officials briefed her staff earlier in the  week on the public health order. While the officials did not confirm they planned to revoke the order, she said they “talked in quite a bit of detail about the plans that they're making in anticipation of the revocation of Title 42.”

She added they were “making plans for multiple phases based on the number of daily encounters of migrants that are anticipated.”

A number of House Democrats cheered the news of the policy’s possible planned termination. 

“I think it's the right news,” Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill., a vocal proponent for efforts to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, said Wednesday. “I recognize that it's a challenge in terms of the numbers, but that is something we should have been preparing for a long time ago.”

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., who represents a border district, also called on President Joe Biden to have the order rescinded. 

“I want him to repeal it. That's what I urge him to do,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Republicans ramped up calls to preserve the border expulsion policy until the administration has a sufficient plan in place to manage an anticipated increase in migration later this spring. 

During a news conference Wednesday, Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both of Texas, and other GOP senators blamed the Biden administration for rising migration numbers. They claimed the Department of Homeland Security does not have a plan in place to manage increased migration after Title 42 is lifted.

“What we need is a plan for how they're going to enforce our laws after Title 42 goes away,” Cornyn said after the news conference. “And so far, we've been met with nothing but silence and an unwillingness to deal with the reality.”

A handful of Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in signaling concern with the administration’s preparedness for a widespread rollback of the policy. 

“We’re trying to figure out if DHS has a plan,” Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., said Wednesday. “Right now we haven’t seen an adequate plan to deal with it. We want to make sure that we have an orderly and humane process at the border, and it’s not a mess.”

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., have also cautioned against a lift of the policy.

Kelly and Sinema spoke by phone Wednesday with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to stress the need for more communication between DHS and local border communities, according to Kelly’s office. 

When Biden first took office, his administration exempted unaccompanied migrant children from the order — a decision that led thousands of minors to enter the country and forced the government to scramble to arrange proper care.

An end to wider use of Title 42 could prompt a similar influx of asylum seekers. DHS officials said Tuesday they were preparing for a potential increase in migration at the border, which is already experiencing historically high numbers of border encounters with migrants. 

In one possible scenario, the border could see up to 18,000 crossings per day, a huge jump from current levels of roughly 7,100 per day. 

“I think it's unclear what the impact of Title 42 potentially lifting in the coming days, weeks or months would be on migratory flows,” one DHS official told reporters, “but we need to be prepared.”