Biden Administration Will Keep Using Covid Rule to Limit Border Immigration
WASHINGTON – As the number of migrants crossing the southern border increases and the pandemic proves far from over, the Biden administration has decided to leave in place for now the public health rule that allowed it to push back hundreds of thousands of migrants, officials said.
The move, confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday, amounted to a change from the administration, which was working on plans to begin lifting the rule this summer, more than a year after it was imposed by the Trump administration. The CDC has said that allowing non-nationals to cross the border into Mexico or Canada “creates a serious danger” of the spread of the coronavirus.
President Biden has come under intense pressure for months from some Democrats and supporters of more liberal immigration policies to lift the rule, which critics say has been used less to protect public health than as a politically defensible means. to limit immigration.
The recent spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant has reinforced the argument that the public health rule, known as Title 42, remains necessary to contain the coronavirus. And the accelerating spread of the virus comes as border officials are so overwhelmed by the persistent pace of illegal migration that they say allowing more migrants into the country by lifting the rule threatens a crisis. humanitarian.
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union said it would move forward with a lawsuit to force the administration to lift the public health order for migrant families after months of negotiations with “l ‘ultimate goal’ to end the policy, one of the group’s lawyers mentioned.
“It is now clear that there is no immediate plan to do this,” Lee Gelernt of the ACLU, lead counsel in the case, said in a statement Monday. “The administration has made repeated public statements that it just needs a little while to rebuild the asylum system that the Trump administration has exhausted. We gave them seven months. Time is up.”
While the administration has used the rule to quickly topple single adults and many migrant families, it has not enforced the restriction on migrant children arriving alone at the southern border, breaking with the Trump administration.
In a case filed Monday in response to the ACLU complaint, the administration said blocking the rule’s enforcement now would lead to further overwhelm the immigration system with asylum seekers and create even more crowded and dangerous conditions at border facilities. Overcrowding at southern border posts makes it difficult to impose public health precautions like social distancing, the file says, noting that more migrants have tested positive for the coronavirus. More and more border officials are also testing positive.
Keeping public health order in place, said David Shahoulian, deputy secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, is “critical” given current conditions.
Mr Biden campaigned for the return of compassion to the country’s immigration system and the overturning of former President Donald J. Trump’s policies that severely limited the number of asylum seekers the country would consider. That goal has proven elusive, leaving the White House under fire from the left for failing to act aggressively enough to undo Mr. Trump’s legacy even as Republicans accuse Mr. Biden of creating a border crisis by suggesting that it will make things easier. for many people to have a chance to enter the United States
Mr Biden presented a proposed change to immigration law that includes a path to citizenship for some migrants already in the United States. But there is little hope of passing sweeping changes to the laws through bipartisan negotiations, so Democrats instead hope to use a budget-linked legislative process to bypass Republican opposition.
Over the weekend, the administration stepped up law enforcement at the southern border, sending more officers to help border officials with the lengthy processing needed to get migrants into the country and begin. to argue that they need asylum, the administration said in its court file.
To help ease the safeguard, immigration officials are bringing more families to family detention centers, using the facilities as temporary shelters. The agency has entered into a new contract to add more than 1,200 beds to its family accommodation capacity.
The number of migrants crossing the southern border between the United States and Mexico surpassed the traditional wave of seasonal spring migration earlier this year, and the pace has not slowed with the onset of the sweltering heat of the summer months. summer. The number of times border officials caught migrants crossing illegally in June was the highest monthly figure since April 2000. And the administration said preliminary figures for July pointed to a new record.
Just a few weeks ago, the administration was considering a plan to lift the public health rule for migrant families as early as the end of July and later for single adults, who have made up the bulk of returned migrants from the start. . of the pandemic. Delaying those plans, perhaps until the end of the year, will certainly be welcomed by Republicans who have proposed legislation to maintain the rule for as long as necessary. But it also fuels Republican arguments that the southern border is in a state of crisis.
Despite the public health rule, many migrant families have been allowed to enter the United States this year. The administration has been able to enforce the rule in some areas of the border but not in others, such as South Texas, in part due to a lack of accommodation capacity in Mexico. And some migrant families have also been allowed to enter the country due to special exemptions, including migrants identified as vulnerable by advocacy groups and international organizations.
But the varying degrees of enforcement of the public health rule confused migrants and prompted many to make repeated efforts to enter the United States, despite Biden’s White House calls not to. do. More than a third of crossings monitored by customs and border protection in June were attempted by a repeat offender.
While the border patrol typically deals with migrants who cross the border illegally, the large number of people who entered Texas in the Rio Grande Valley – many of whom are Central American families fleeing violence and poverty – have led the administration to send officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help with these tasks and expand testing for the coronavirus. Two of the enforcement agency’s family detention centers are being used as expanded temporary shelters where families can stay until their treatment is complete, an administration official said.
Democrats sharply criticized Mr. Trump’s handling of a similar increase in 2019 when he proposed a regulation to indefinitely detain the families of migrants caught crossing the border illegally. The rule would have replaced a decades-old judicial agreement that requires a certain level of care for migrant children and a 20-day limit on the length of their detention.
In March, the Biden administration announced its intention to detain migrant families for only 72 hours, a radical departure from the policies of the Obama and Trump administrations.
Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor Immigrations and Customs Enforcement responded to questions about how long the government plans to hold families in detention centers that have become temporary processing centers so that migrants do not wait for days. outside.
“We will monitor whether short-term treatment and testing of families translates into longer-term detention,” said Mr. Gelernt of the ACLU.
Myriam Jordan contributed to Los Angeles reporting.
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