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Migrants in Mexico

Migrants wait in line for clothes and supplies in a makeshift migrant camp in the border town of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico on July 10, 2021. Hundreds of people from Central America and other Latin American countries have been sent to the camp by U.S. border officials after trying to enter the United States. (Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images)

Title 42 Wind-Down Welcomed But 'Not Enough' to Secure Immigration Justice, Say Rights Groups

"With an end date for Title 42 now set, it's time for President Biden to fulfill his promise to build a just and humane asylum system," said the ACLU.

Julia Conley

Immigrant rights advocates on Friday welcomed the Biden administration's announcement that it will stop deporting migrants under the Title 42 public health provision—responding to a demand that's been made by rights groups and health experts alike for two years—but warned that the plan to phase out the expulsions in the next several weeks does not go far enough to secure justice for immigrants.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, the U.S. government has invoked Title 42 of the Public Health Safety Act to expel more than 1.7 million migrants who have attempted to enter the country, mainly at the southern border. The vast majority of people who have been deported under Title 42—which states that the government can prohibit "the introduction of persons" from foreign countries where there is a communicable disease that could spread in the U.S.—have been expelled since President Joe Biden took office.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that due to low Covid-19 case levels throughout the U.S., "an order suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary," and said Title 42 will no longer be in effect starting May 23, after the government implements Covid-19 mitigation protocols at U.S. borders.

The coming end of Title 42 deportations was "welcome news," the ACLU said, adding that "expulsions should start ramping down sharply, today, so more lives aren't shattered in the interim."

The announcement came seven months after dozens of health experts wrote to the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) arguing that a blanket deportation order was never necessary to protect public health in the U.S., denouncing the use of Title 42 as "scientifically baseless and politically motivated," and calling on the government to implement masking, testing, and vaccination at the border instead of turning away hundreds of thousands of people.

"Implementing a wind-down instead of ending the policy outright and immediately will put asylum seekers, especially those who identify as Black and LGBTQIA(+), at continued risk."

Advocacy group Human Rights First has identified nearly 10,000 reports of violent attacks on people who have been turned away at the U.S. border under Title 42 and sent to Mexico.

Biden angered advocates last August when he renewed the Title 42 order amid the Delta variant wave as well as in January when he cited the Omicron variant as a reason to renew the policy once again.

After making a campaign promise to restore the U.S. asylum system and ensure people are treated humanely at U.S. borders, said the Texas-based immigration justice and legal advocacy group RAICES, Biden's plan to phase out deportations "is simply not enough."

"The administration has had more than 14 months to plan for the end of Title 42," said Tami Goodlette, director of litigation at RAICES. "Implementing a wind-down instead of ending the policy outright and immediately will put asylum seekers, especially those who identify as Black and LGBTQIA(+), at continued risk. The rape, torture, and kidnapping of those expelled under Title 42 is well-documented and rampant, and with the CDC's announcement, it will continue for two more months. That is unacceptable."

Progressive lawmakers echoed advocates' calls for the administration to go further in protecting migrants, while applauding the end of Title 42.

"I commend the Biden administration is taking this long-overdue step to end the cruel Title 42 expulsion order," said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) "We can never reverse the trauma that Title 42 has inflicted upon children and families seeking refuge in the United States, especially Black migrants at the southern border. There is still plenty of work to be done to address our broken immigration system, increased militarization at our border, and inhumane detention—but after two years and nearly two million expulsions, I am incredibly thankful to see this racist policy finally come to an end."

By ending the Title 42 policy, said the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Biden administration is ensuring the U.S. no longer uses the Public Health Safety Act to violate "international and domestic law."

"People in need of protection have the right to seek asylum in the United States," said Olga Byrne, director of asylum and immigration legal services at IRC. "As conflict has escalated in recent months around the world, the U.S. honored this right to seek safety, offering alternatives for people from countries like Afghanistan and Ukraine. But other crises cannot be neglected and the termination of Title 42 gives hope that asylum-seekers from other parts of the world will have the same opportunity to search for safety in the U.S."

"Beyond Title 42," Byrne added, "we call on the Biden administration to take further necessary and urgent action to immediately expand capacity at the southern border to process people in a humane and dignified manner, and invest in community capacity to welcome, including through community-based shelters at the southern border."

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