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Biden administration aims to lift pandemic border restriction known as Title 42


The CDC is expected to issue guidance soon on whether to end a COVID policy known as Title 42. It's a public health order enacted under the Trump administration, which allowed the federal government to expel or stop migrants from entering the United States. Customs and Border Protection has counted more than 1.7 million expulsions under Title 42 in just the past two years, mostly under President Biden's administration, which up to now has kept the policy in place. Let's discuss this with Theresa Cardinal Brown, a former DHS official who now manages immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Good morning.


INSKEEP: Does it make sense to drop the Title 42 enforcement now?

CARDINAL BROWN: Well, there's lots of people who would argue that it never should have been put in place in the first place because it's overcoming or superseding our immigration laws and not allowing people to apply for asylum who otherwise would have the chance. It was initiated as a response to COVID, and technically it is a CDC order. But even a judge in D.C. recently - a decision about Title 42 on families - said it seems that the rationale - the public health rationale for Title 42 is declining as we're getting a better handle on COVID.

INSKEEP: I guess we should be really frank about this. Of course, you don't want COVID in the United States, but COVID was already in the United States. In fact, the United States had some of the worst case rates. So the idea that you were going to keep COVID out by keeping migrants out was kind of absurd to begin with. Is that correct?

CARDINAL BROWN: It is, especially when you realize that this order only applied to particular migrants. It applied to migrants who were coming to the border without documents seeking asylum. At the same time, we were allowing thousands of people to cross the border regularly for essential services and work and school. And now even those restrictions have come down. So this is sort of the last border restriction. And as I said, a lot of people believed it really wasn't about public health in the first place.

INSKEEP: OK. Did this policy then artificially suppress the number of people entering the United States for a period of years?

CARDINAL BROWN: Well, I would say that it certainly was the primary tool of managing the migration at the border under the Trump administration and the Biden administration. As you mentioned, 1.7 million encounters, almost more than half of those people that were encountered at the border in the last year were expelled under Title 42. And so what it was used for primarily was a migration management tool.

INSKEEP: But let's be frank about the consequences of lifting it now. Is there massive pent-up demand that is going to cause a massive surge toward the border?

CARDINAL BROWN: Well, the government itself is preparing for as many as 12,000 to 16000 people a day that they may have to encounter and manage and process if Title 42 comes down. So even the government believes that there's a surge coming. The question is whether it's a temporary increase or whether there's a lot - that this would just be a continuation of a phenomenon that we've been seeing, frankly, for the last five or six years, which is we've been seeing increasing numbers of migrants, particularly families and children from all over the place, not just Mexico as been traditional for decades but Central America, South America, other places around the world, including Ukraine and Russia. This is now a new migration phenomenon, and I think our responses have to change to how we're going to manage this.

INSKEEP: Does the United States just have to let a lot more people in? We've got about 15 seconds here.

CARDINAL BROWN: I don't think so. They do have the capacity to process people for asylum and do so in a regular way. But they haven't really got all the pieces in place yet. So if Title 42 comes down quickly, I think we're going to see some crowded facilities, some overrun Border Patrol stations and a lot more people in the short term.

INSKEEP: Theresa Cardinal Brown of the Bipartisan Policy Center, thanks so much.

CARDINAL BROWN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.