The Biden administration is preparing to lift Title 42, the public health authority the U.S. has used since the spring of 2020 to stop the spread of Covid by preventing immigrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to claim asylum, say two officials familiar with the planning.
The policy, which the officials say will be lifted on May 23, has blocked more than 1.7 million attempts by immigrants to cross the border since its start during the Trump administration in March 2020, often turning them around and sending them back into poor conditions in Mexico.
Early in the Biden administration, the U.S. Border Patrol stopped enforcing Title 42 against children crossing alone and immigration advocates sued to afford the same protections to families crossing together. Now, according to the sources, all immigrants — even single adults — will be allowed to enter the United States.
Plans to end Title 42 were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. officials, state governors and local officials have warned of a potential surge of more than 170,000 migrants across the border if Title 42 is lifted. Thousands of would-be asylum seekers have been waiting in camps on the Mexican side of the border while Title 42 has been in effect.
One senior Department of Homeland Security official said there is concern inside the agency that setting a date to lift Title 42 for over a month away will incentivize more would-be immigrants to leave their homes now in hopes of being allowed into the United States in May.
Sources familiar with the internal planning say the Centers for Disease Control informed DHS on Tuesday that it planned to lift the title; the health agency was due to review the policy on Wednesday as part of a 60-day schedule. They say DHS is working to surge resources to the border and begin a “phased approach” toward allowing all migrants who enter to claim asylum.
The Biden administration has not officially announced the end of the policy, but sources say planning is underway to lift Title 42 by May 23, in keeping with the CDC guidance.
The Biden administration will also allow asylum officers, not just judges, to adjudicate asylum claims at the border in order to speed up the process starting in late May.
Immigration advocates say the lifting of Title 42 is long overdue.
“Title 42 was never justified by public health and has caused grave harm to thousands of asylum seekers over the past two years,” said Lee Gelernt, an immigration attorney for the ACLU who is leading the lawsuit against the Biden administration over Title 42. “It is highly regrettable that the Biden administration kept this Trump policy in place for more than a year despite a clear consensus among public health experts that the policy was unjustified.”
One argument used by both administrations for keeping Title 42 in place was that asylum seekers are placed in detention as they await processing and decisions in their immigration cases. They argued Covid would more easily spread in those environments.
But as Covid restrictions began to lift nationwide, that argument was criticized.
“The fact is that after more than a year in office, this administration’s Covid policies remain deeply hypocritical: falsely scapegoating asylum seekers at the border for the spread of the pandemic while simultaneously removing Covid restrictions across the country. This approach continues to show that Title 42 has nothing to do with public health and everything to do with the xenophobia and racism embedded in our immigration system,” said Noah Gottschalk, global policy lead at Oxfam America.
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.