A person stands next to the U.S.-Mexico border barrier painted with a mural depicting people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children and were deported as adults on July 22, 2021 in Tijuana, Mexico. The mural was created by artist Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana. While the Biden administration has haltingly restarted the asylum system along the southwest border, only a small number of asylum seekers whose situations are considered the most urgent have been allowed to cross the border with Title 42 exceptions. Thousands of asylum seekers remain stuck in Tijuana in precarious conditions. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats and immigration advocates are pushing the White House to end a controversial Trump-era immigration policy enacted during the pandemic that allowed U.S. officials to expel migrants and asylum seekers at the border.
“I continue to be disappointed, deeply disappointed, in the administration’s response,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said during a Thursday call with reporters.
The policy, known as Title 42, was enacted by the Trump administration in 2020 as a way to prevent migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. by citing a health crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It also expelled migrants to their home countries.
More than 1 million migrants have been expelled under Title 42, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Enforcement and Removal Operations, under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, carried out 36,654 air expulsions, according to a report released by ICE Friday.
It’s a policy that the Biden administration has kept in place, but amended to prevent unaccompanied children from being expelled.
Last week, a district court in Texas ruled that the Biden administration could not exempt children from the rule, and an appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled the Biden administration couldn’t use Title 42 to expel migrant families to countries where they could face persecution.
The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said during the Thursday call with reporters that the Biden administration should continue to defend “its original decision to prevent children from being expelled.”
“Expelling children is not who we are as a nation,” he said, adding that Title 42 “is neither humane, nor effective in managing migration.”
Top officials at the Department of Homeland Security are planning to tell Mexico that the policy could come to an end as early as April, according to documents obtained by Buzzfeed News.
Menendez said that he, along with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have asked the White House for a meeting with President Joe Biden to discuss Title 42, along with other immigration policies, but have yet to hear back.
He added that the White House should direct the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to not renew the policy, which was enacted as a public health measure.
The CDC makes the decision every 60 days whether to keep Title 42 in place. The next decision is April 1.
“Our focus has been on the administration, who has been really relying upon and using the CDC determination to effectuate this policy,” he said. “I have no doubt that if the administration decided that in fact they would no longer seek to use this policy, that the CDC would follow.”
Before Title 42 was in place, migrants arrested at the border could apply for asylum and wait for their claims to be processed to determine if they could remain in the U.S.
The chair of the House Homeland Security Committee’s border panel, Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., said during the call that a hearing on Title 42 will be held in the coming weeks. She recently held a hearing that examined another Trump immigration policy that a Texas federal court was forcing the Biden administration to keep in place.
Lee Gelernt, the deputy director for the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said on the call that the organization is prepared to take legal action if the Title 42 policy remains in place.
He said the ACLU is urging the Biden administration to not appeal the D.C. appeals court’s decision and to reject the Texas ruling that would not let unaccompanied minors be exempt from Title 42.
“The way the administration can deal with both cases is simply by ending Title 42, so we urge the administration to do that,” he said.
Guerline Jozef, the executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said that under Title 42, more than 20,000 migrants have been expelled to Haiti. She added that those fleeing unstable countries should be able to seek asylum in the U.S. whether they are from Haiti or Ukraine.
A woman and three children from Ukraine were turned away at the U.S. Mexican border under Title 42, according to multiple media reports. More than 2 million people have fled Ukraine, following Russia’s attack on the country. The family was eventually allowed into the U.S.
“It is unacceptable for President Biden and his administration to continue the use of Title 42 to literally deport, expel some of the most vulnerable people,” Jozef said.
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