During the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States abandoned its principles and commitment to care for the most vulnerable by withholding protections for asylum seekers. Under Title 42, a Trump-era border policy camouflaged as a pandemic health precaution, the government dismissed individuals seeking safety in the United States more than 1.7 million times.
On April 1, 2022, the Biden Administration announced Title 42 would terminate at the end of May. As advocates and impacted communities exhaled with cautious relief, many policymakers greeted the announcement with political contempt. Rather than strategizing humane migration management laws, they are attempting to block the policy’s repeal.
Ignoring the Science
The Trump administration claimed Title 42 permitted the U.S. government to restrict migration during public health emergencies by expelling asylum seekers and migrants. From the beginning, medical officials challenged the legitimacy and efficacy of the measure. Officials from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention initially opposed the request to activate Title 42, finding no health rationale.
Rather than preventing the spread of disease, the policy risked the opposite. Physicians for Human Rights found that Title 42 harmed health, and they, along with other health professionals, repeatedly urged the government to implement common-sense, medically justified policies instead. The country’s go-to infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, underscored that expelling immigrants is not the right or practical method for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the United States.
Yet, the science was ignored for two years, and an anti-immigrant policy prevailed.
Racism and Exclusion Masked as a Public Health Policy
People seeking asylum often make treacherous journeys to flee persecution. They are highly vulnerable. While courts have ruled that Title 42 does not trump the rights of families at-risk of torture or unaccompanied children, the government has denied many their legal right to seek protection. Unable to enter the U.S. or return to the circumstances they fled, thousands of asylum seekers have found themselves stranded and have suffered cruelties such as exploitation, kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder.
The application of this rule has not been uniform or just. Although the U.S. has rightly opened the asylum process to Ukrainians and Russians following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, no such welcome has been extended to Black and Brown communities escaping fragile conditions. Black Haitian nationals have been expelled to harmful conditions in Mexico or forcibly returned to their home country despite Haiti facing multiple crises. Similarly, numerous Venezuelan asylum seekers and migrants have been unconscionably expelled to Colombia.
Challenges to Termination and the Need for Humane Migration Management
Reliance on Title 42 is increasingly illogical as COVID-19 protocols lift across the globe and country. If the government were to continue Title 42—a failed public health and enforcement policy—it would be evading its responsibility to craft just migration infrastructure and reinforcing a history of immigration policies that terrorize families and perpetuate systemic racism.
The Biden Administration’s decision to end Title 42 was an essential step to restoring asylum. Despite bipartisan legislative challenges, the administration is preparing to respond to the flow of asylum seekers and migrants as the U.S. reinstates migration processes.
Immigrants’ rights and faith groups are working around the clock to strengthen the administration’s transition plan away from Title 42 and ensure a safe, streamlined process for vulnerable migrating communities.