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Migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border

Asylum-seekers prepare to be taken to a U.S. Border Patrol processing facility after crossing into the U.S. on June 16, 2021 in La Joya, Texas. (Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Democrats Panned for Move to Codify Title 42 With 'Stephen Miller Bill'

"Title 42 is a cruel and racist Trump-era policy crafted by white nationalist Stephen Miller to prevent Black and Brown immigrants from seeking their legal right to asylum in the U.S."

Julia Conley

Immigration justice advocates on Tuesday demanded that federal lawmakers reject a legislative package they derided as the "Stephen Miller bill," which would codify a rule that has expelled more than 1.7 million asylum-seekers since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Texas-based group RAICES dubbed the proposal—officially called the Public Health and Border Security Act—the "Stephen Miller bill" after a chief architect of former President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant agenda, including the use of Title 42 of the Public Health Safety Act to refuse entry to asylum-seekers, supposedly in the name of mitigating the spread of Covid-19.

President Joe Biden was applauded by rights advocates earlier this month when his administration responded to mounting pressure and announced the provision would no longer be in effect starting May 23, after immigration officials implement public health measures at border crossings.

"The Democrats co-sponsoring this bill are allowing political propaganda to determine the bills they support and shamefully pandering to white supremacists by seeking to codify this xenophobic and deadly Trump-era policy."

But right-wing members of Biden's own party, including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), are co-sponsoring what RAICES called the "cruel and senseless" package introduced Tuesday, which would prevent the government from terminating Title 42 provisions until 60 days after the end of the national Covid-19 emergency declaration.

Title 42 of the Public Health Safety Act 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., and since March 2020 has been used to expel more than 16,000 unaccompanied children. People who have been turned away under the order have been sent back to their home countries, where many face violence and persecution, or to Mexico.

"Title 42 is a cruel and racist Trump-era policy crafted by white nationalist Stephen Miller to prevent Black and Brown immigrants from seeking their legal right to asylum in the U.S.," said Allen Morris, policy and government affairs strategist at RAICES. "This 'Stephen Miller bill' is nothing but a cruel and craven homage to the racist right wing, politicizing access to asylum under the guise of public health and bipartisanship."

"The Democrats co-sponsoring this bill are allowing political propaganda to determine the bills they support and shamefully pandering to white supremacists by seeking to codify this xenophobic and deadly Trump-era policy," Morris added.

As the so-called Public Health and Border Security Act was introduced Tuesday, other conservative Democratic lawmakers who have not signed on as co-sponsors were reportedly pushing the White House to reverse Biden's decision to rescind Title 42.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close ally of the president, told "Face the Nation" on CBS Sunday that he hoped the decision would be "reconsidered appropriately" because "we're seeing infections rise."

Kelly and Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.)—who are all facing competitive reelection races—are also pressuring the administration to keep Title 42 in place, claiming border authorities need "more technology...access roads and, in some places, they need physical barriers" to cope with an influx of immigrants that may result from the lifting of the order in May.

The White House, said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council (AIC), has failed to explain to the public why Title 42 is "counterproductive, unnecessary, and actively harmful"—allowing right-wing commentators and politicians to spread "misinformation" about the supposed dangers that the end of the order will inflict.

While sending 1.7 million people into dangerous situations, Title 42 has not stopped people from crossing into the U.S., Reichlin-Melnick noted, citing statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

As the AIC wrote last October, public health experts "assert that Title 42 expulsions themselves could pose a public health threat, as people are detained together 'for days to weeks prior to transporting them' for expulsions, which 'heighten the risk of Covid-19 transmission across national borders.'"

RAICES on Tuesday noted that claims that the U.S. cannot cope with an uptick in migration numbers have been discredited in recent weeks as thousands of Ukrainian refugees have "presented themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border and were met with open arms ahead of their Black and Brown counterparts."

"This hypocrisy and stark difference in treatment is evidence of Title 42's purpose as a tool of racial discrimination—not public health," said Morris. "We at RAICES, along with communities across the border, remain ready to coordinate with the government to welcome all people seeking safety at our borders."


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