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Title 42's end date faces more challenges in D.C.

Published: Thursday, April 7, 2022 - 11:08am
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Republicans and some Democrats in Washington are aiming to keep a Trump-era public health policy restricting asylum at the border in place by tying it to a sweeping COVID-19 spending bill.

For the last two years, Title 42 has allowed border officers to quickly turn away migrants and asylum seekers because of the pandemic. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the U.S. has effective mitigation tools for the virus now and the protocol was no longer necessary. 

It’s slated to end on May 23. But on Tuesday, all 50 Senate Republicans voted to block a $10 billion COVID spending bill until it included a measure to keep Title 42 in place. Democrats need 60 votes to advance the bill. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema voted with other Democrats to move the bill forward, but on Thursday, they and nine other lawmakers introduced a bill to delay the Title 42 termination.

Title 42 has been used more than 1.7 million times since it was put in place in March 2020. The CDC enacted it on public health grounds, but many Republican lawmakers now argue it’s needed as a border enforcement tool. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed suit challenging the termination on Monday. 

On Wednesday, lawmakers part of the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Border Security also held a hearing on the future of the policy and heard testimony from human rights and policy advocates and a a public health expert, who argued the pandemic policy was no longer needed for COVID and the policy was actually driving apprehension numbers up. Customs and Border Protection data shows the number of repeat crossings at the border is around twice as high what it was before the protocol.

They also heard from Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, who argued repealing Title 42 would overwhelm Border Patrol agents and local law enforcement officers in his jurisdiction. 

Both Kelly and Sinema have argued ending Title 42 by May 23 is too soon and comes without a comprehensive plan. 

But Chelsea Sachau, a lawyer with the legal advocacy group Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, which works with migrants stuck in Nogales because of Title 42, says organizations like hers don’t feel the same. She says many of her clients have been waiting for months to seek asylum at the port — a right under U.S. and international law. She says as a lawyer and advocate, she's working on helping her clients understand and adapt to the changes.

"But as a human, watching other human beings who are already suffering so much harm and persecution face these obstacles ... and to watch politicians in the U.S. continuously put politics over asylum seekers lives and wellbeing, it’s a state of grief," she said. 

She says while there’s still a lot to understand about what comes next, her organization is ready to help, and keeping Title 42 in place is not the answer.