During the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States began 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.
In early April, the Biden Administration announced Title 42 would end on May 23. Advocates and impacted communities initially exhaled in cautious relief. However, dissenters quickly challenged the termination order. On May 19, a federal court ruled that the Biden administration cannot end Title 42 at this time.
Meanwhile, rather than strategizing humane migration management laws that restore asylum, some members of Congress are attempting to block the policy’s repeal on a bipartisan basis.
While litigation on the fate of Title 42 continues, we must prevent Congress from passing legislation that would indefinitely preserve Title 42 – a policy that has been flawed from the beginning.
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 United States 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 United States 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.
The United States Needs Humane Migration Management
Reliance on Title 42 is increasingly illogical as COVID-19 protocols lift across the globe and country. Congress should be working to lessen the harm of the pandemic for all without sustaining a misguided restriction on the right to asylum.
The Biden administration’s decision to end Title 42 was an essential step to restoring asylum. Continuing Title 42—a failed public health and enforcement policy— evades the government’s responsibility to craft a just migration infrastructure and reinforces a history of immigration policies that terrorize families and perpetuate systemic racism.
Immigrants’ rights and faith groups are ready to strengthen the administration’s transition plan away from Title 42 and ensure a safe, streamlined process for vulnerable migrating communities.