A pandemic restriction used by former President Trump to effectively ban migrants from entering the United States was deemed unnecessary by the Centers for Disease Control, on April 1. The Biden administration had continued to enforce the rule, known as Title 42, but will end the practice on May 23, 2022.
When it was first put in place at the onset of the pandemic many immigration advocates and public health experts questioned the motives behind the COVID-19 restriction.
Now that nearly 97% of the U.S. population lives in counties identified as having “low” COVID-19 Community Level, the CDC no longer sees a need for Title 42.
Tony Payan is the director of Rice University’s Center for the United States and Mexico. He spoke with Texas Standard about what the end of the policy might mean for migrants trying to enter the U.S.. Listen to the interview in the audio player above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Why is the Biden administration ending Title 42 now?
Tony Payan: Well, I think back in August of last year, many of us argued that as the pandemic was getting better – of course, omicron came in December and things changed. But we do know that it was going to be very difficult for the Biden administration to argue both that things were getting better and at the same time, continue with Title 42 expulsions of migrants. And the CDC makes its own recommendations, and they said the pandemic has eased. Now, the Biden administration has to follow by ending the use of Title 42 as an immigration policy – which it was never intended to be, of course.
The AP reports some 500 migrants from Central America pushed past police and Mexican National Guard lines in southern Mexico in what appears to be a march to the U.S. border. What does this change of policy mean for U.S. border security?
That is the very tight position in which the Biden administration finds itself. It is at once signaling that the border is open, even though it’s not – it still has all the provisions of Title 8 to process these asylum seekers. And it still has the MPP, the migration protection protocol, which actually allows the administration to keep migrants on the Mexican side with the help of the Mexican government, and then implement the kind of a metering system by which the U.S. can process a few of them at a time. In fact, I was in El Paso just a week ago at the airport and I saw the line, not for those of us who are boarding a plane going somewhere, but for the individuals who have been let in the U.S. with the promise of a date before an immigration judge. That is a difficult thing to reconcile because on the one hand, you’ve got the criminals operating in Mexico and enthusing people to move to the border, of course, charging and mobilizing people. And on the other hand, you get one less tool to deal with the search.
What changes do you expect to see at the border after Title 42 is lifted?
The administration is actually preparing for various scenarios from the 6,000 a day that they are dealing with today, to as many as 18,000 a day. Obviously, there’s a lot of uncertainty on the numbers. There’s a lot of immigrants who are milling around in Mexico and perhaps were even settled in Mexico for a while. Now, they will see an opportunity to approach the border and turn themselves in to seek asylum. That’s going to be a tough, I think, surge to manage, but I think they’re pretty good. They created the center for the border for coordination of operations by the Biden administration at the border. And hopefully they’ll fare well and it won’t be more than the 18,000 that they foresee as of now, at least.
Another wave of the pandemic could be on the horizon with the latest BA.2 variant. Is it possible that the Biden administration could reinstate Title 42?
Well, if things get really, really bad and the CDC goes back to making some specific recommendations against the pandemic, it is possible that the Biden administration can use Title 42 – even though, as I said, it was never intended to be used as an immigration measure. It really is about public health. But the Trump administration was very good at using it for immigration purposes. It is going to be very difficult for the Biden administration to go back to that and make the case. Particularly because they face quite a bit of pushback from immigrant advocates saying that that policy is not intended for that. The Biden administration has the MPP and, of course, they’ve got all the provisions of Title 8 – which is the normal asylum-seeking provisions that regulates asylum seekers and their petitions before the U.S. government.