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Top CDC official says Title 42 border policy ‘came from outside’

Immigrant advocates have long argued the Trump administration crafted the order as an immigration enforcement tool

Rep. Jamie Raskin questions a witness during a June hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which issued a 94-page report Monday.
Rep. Jamie Raskin questions a witness during a June hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which issued a 94-page report Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A top health official told a House select subcommittee that a directive that has restricted asylum access at the southwest border since the pandemic was drafted without input from the nation’s top health agency but was instead “handed to” them, a report published Monday states.

Martin Cetron, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of global migration and quarantine, told the panel that the idea for the border directive, known as the Title 42 order, “came from outside the CDC subject matter experts.”

Cetron said the proposed Title 42 order, which was issued by the CDC and has allowed border agents to rapidly expel migrants who cross the border without considering their asylum claim since March 2020, was “not drafted by me or my team” but rather was “handed to us,” the report states.

Cetron also told Congress that Stephen Miller, one of former President Donald Trump’s immigration advisers who was instrumental in the Trump administration’s earlier policy to separate migrant families at the border, was involved in creating the policy.

Biden administration officials have maintained publicly that the order, implemented during his predecessor’s administration, is intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. Speaking at a White House briefing last year, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called Title 42 “a public health authority and not an immigration policy.”

But Cetron’s testimony, included in a 94-page report by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, offers more evidence to back what immigrant advocates have long argued: that the Title 42 order was crafted as an immigration enforcement tool, not as a public health one.

Last year, the subcommittee, which is investigating the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, released testimony from former CDC official Anne Schuchat. She told lawmakers that Cetron refused to sign the Title 42 order because “the bulk of the evidence at that time did not support this policy proposal.”

The Biden administration initially kept the Title 42 directive in place for more than a year after taking office despite outcry from human rights advocates who say the policy sends migrants who were fleeing persecution back into danger.

The administration attempted to rescind it earlier this year, but a Louisiana federal judge ruled the government must keep the directive in place, following a lawsuit by Republican-led states.

And contrary to that effort to end the program, the Biden administration earlier this month expanded the expulsion policy to include Venezuelans, in light of increasing numbers of migrants fleeing the South American nation.

Border agents logged more than 1 million Title 42 expulsions at the southwest border from October 2021 through August, according to the latest data published by Customs and Border Protection.

The report is the third released by the House panel, which is investigating the CDC’s COVID-19 response and potential political interference under the Trump administration. Monday’s report also details how Trump administration officials “compromised” and attempted to block the release of CDC documents on the novel coronavirus.

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