Migrants from Guatemala turn themselves over to a Border Patrol agent after crossing the border wall between the United States and Mexico on May 12, 2021 in Yuma, Arizona. (Shutterstock)
By Linda Nwoke, Journal Exclusive
As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), under former President Donald Trump, issued a public health order, a.k.a Title 42, for the first time since its creation in 1944. In March 2020, the Public Health Service Act was invoked to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in the United States, specifically to stop the spread of COVID-19 in immigrant detention centers, where migrants are accommodated after they arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Over the past two years, immigration officials have enforced the law under the rule against migrants more than 1.7 million times, especially those with repeated attempts to enter the U.S. Now, the CDC has fixed May 23, 2022, as the expiration date for the order due to the reduction in COVID-19 cases and the wide availability of vaccines.
President Biden’s administration intended to end the order, a campaign promise. Plans to end Title 42 sparked legal battles from Republican state governors across Texas, Washington D.C., Arizona, and 21 other states. Interestingly, some Democratic lawmakers are also in support of keeping the order. They argue that the federal government violated administrative and procedural laws. Secondly, if lifted as planned, it could lead to unrest at the border. Hence, what commenced as a public health protection effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the border is transforming into a political instrument, specifically an immigration tool to block migrants from claiming asylum.
The Committee on Homeland Security and Alejandro Mayorkas
On Wednesday, April 27, 2022, the House Appropriations Committee on Homeland Security fiscal Budget grilled the Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, over the department’s security issues and level of preparedness. The committee displayed dissatisfaction with the department’s level of readiness in preventing the avalanche of migrants that will try to enter the U.S. at the end of Title 42.
In defense, Mayorkas explained Homeland Security’s plan. “Our department has been executing a comprehensive strategy to secure our borders and rebuild our immigration system. With the Title 42 public health order lifted, we expect migration levels to increase,” says Mayorkas.
Over 17,000 migrants per day are expected at the Southern Border when Title 42 ends. The DHS Secretary explained that such a number would strain the system despite preparing for various scenarios. He maintained to the committee, “What we do is prepare and plan. We’ve been doing so for months. Our responsibility is to be prepared for different scenarios, and that is what we are doing.”
Asked about the view of Democratic lawmakers’ argument about the department’s unpreparedness for a migrant surge at the border. Mayorkas said, “I disrespectfully disagree.” He stressed that preparations were underway and cited a 20-page memorandum released last week describing the plans in detail.
Consequently, the agency has a plan that covers vaccination, increasing the number of Customs and Border Protection agents and other federal personnel at the border. Coupled with enforcing ‘expedited removal’ proceedings that speedily deport unqualified asylum seekers/ migrants and expand the capacity of nationwide holding centers using temporary facilities.
Status of Title 42 at the Courts
Yet, asylum-seekers advocates support Biden’s administration and CDC to end the rule. They believe the government violates the right to seek protection under U.S. law and international treaties and endangering people seeking protection from persecution in their home country. While the states filing the lawsuit insists that the U.S. is not ready for the influx of migrants expected in summer because of the effect on public services. It is possible for a court could order the government to reverse course and maintain Title 42 on May 23 due to ongoing lawsuits by Republican-led states.
Ukrainians, Title 42 and The Mexico Border
He also emphasized the need for Ukrainians seeking to enter the United States not to enter the U.S. through the Mexico border. “That is not the way to do it,” he said. He explained that the U.S is streamlining refugee applications for Ukrainians and others fleeing the Russian invasion, making it easier for refugees to come to the United States from Europe. The informal route through northern Mexico is not one of them.
The New Rule: ‘Do Not Come’
In a recent press briefing on May 1, the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary echoed the same calls for migrants “not to come” to the southern border of the U.S.
He reiterated the impact of such a movement on the system: “That’s going to put a strain on our system.” He shared the plan, which involves a regional approach to address the challenge while calling on countries on the southern border to manage their borders.
During the interview with Dana Bash on CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ Mayorkas explained, “What happens now is individuals are either expelled under the Title 42 authority or placed in immigration enforcement proceedings. And they are removed if they do not have a valid claim under our law to remain. And so, the border is not open.”
He emphasized his message of “Do not come” in response to Bash’s question about anyone considering coming to the United States. A message that aligns with what Vice President, Kamala Harris, said last year to intending migrants in Guatemala: “Do not come. Do not come.”
Concerning his opinion on ending Title 42, Mayorkas explained that in his capacity as DHS secretary, he has no view on decisions relating to Title 42. “I do not because I am not a public health expert. But it is my responsibility to plan and execute while it is in place and when it isn’t,” he said.