Title 42, a once little-known immigration law, has become a flashpoint in the ongoing debate over the crisis at the southern border.
The rollback of Title 42 is expected to prompt a flood of illegal immigrants crossing the border. U.S. border enforcement and immigration authorities are gearing up for an onslaught of border-crossers when Title 42 is rolled back on May 23.
White House officials insist that Congress will have to intervene if it wants to delay the May 23 rollback. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is under intense pressure to put the delay up for a vote.
But, what is Title 42, and what can we expect? Here’s what you need to know about it and the ongoing political fight over suspending it.
What is Title 42?
Title 42 is a section of U.S. health law that allows the United States government to temporarily block noncitizens from coming into America “when doing so is required in the interest of public health.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Trump administration invoked Title 42 in March of 2020. At the time, the White House said it was following recommendations from public health officials to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among migrants in overcrowded Border Patrol stations.
Before the pandemic and Title 42, migrants would have been processed at Border Patrol facilities and evaluated for humanitarian protections and asylum that would allow them to remain in the U.S. Despite Title 42, border apprehensions were near double during the fiscal year 2021 as they were in 2019.
What will happen if Title 42 is lifted?
Lifting Title 42 will produce a seismic shift in U.S. policy for years to come. After May 23, single adults and families caught trying to cross the Mexican border will be processed, then placed in deportation hearings.
Border patrol and state officials are preparing for the worst-case scenario — as many as 18,000 migrants crossing the border daily. The average daily crossing in February of this year was 5,900. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the agency has been preparing for months for the worst-case scenario.
According to Mayorkas, the administration has deployed additional resources to the border, including transportation, new soft-sided processing facilities, medical resources, and personnel.
According to Mayorkas, “We are confident that we can implement our plans when they are needed. [W]e are planning for different scenarios.”
Border Patrol officials have voiced growing concern about getting adequate support from the Biden administration. “It’s going to take us a little bit to ramp up. But, we’re gonna get there,” said El Paso Sector Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez.
Republicans and Democrats against repeal
Republicans have lined up to fight against the repeal of Title 42, decrying it as what they predict will be “unmitigated chaos and catastrophe” once the policy is lifted.
Recently, Democrats, especially those in tough 2022 election battles, have little interest in taking any responsibility for the border crisis.
Democrat Senate candidates, including Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin and John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, are urging the administration to reconsider whether to end Title 42.
Additionally, five Democratic Senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Raphael Warnock of Georgia — joined with Republicans to introduce a bill that would preserve the policy until 60 days after the end of the public health emergency is announced by the surgeon general.
“Unless we have a well-thought-out plan, I think it is something that should be revisited and perhaps delayed,” said chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator Gary Peters of Michigan.
“I’m going to defer judgment on that until I give the administration the opportunity to fully articulate what that plan is. But I share … concerns of some of my colleagues.”
Possible political implications
According to an April 6 Politico/Morning Consult poll, 55% of voters strongly or somewhat oppose the policy’s ending. This includes 27% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans.
This backlash is the biggest of any policy of the Biden administration. Republicans rank immigration as a higher-priority issue than do Democrats.
What happens next?
Already, at least 19 Republican state attorneys general have challenged the decision by the Biden administration to end Title 42.
The most recent state to file a lawsuit in Texas. The lawsuit claims that the Biden administration didn’t follow the required procedures to end the policy, while the state would be forced to pay for the social services support given to the migrants.
The judge has not yet issued a ruling on the case.