Biden Administration Says It’s Keeping Pandemic Policy to Expel Asylum Seekers

After a review, the Biden administration has decided to continue enforcing Title 42, a restrictive Trump-era immigration policy that allows officials to deport asylum seekers at the border, forcing them to forgo their right to seek legal asylum in the country, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials.

Under the most recent authorization of the policy signed by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, the administration is required to review the policy every 60 days. The administration has reviewed the policy three times so far and has decided to keep it in place every time, this time citing the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Under Title 42, officials have expelled over 1.5 million asylum seekers since March 2020. Despite Democrats’ promises on the campaign trail to undo Trump’s inhumane immigration policy and make the U.S. a safe haven for asylum seekers, the Biden administration has deported more people under the policy than the Trump administration did – and it has also enforced the policy for longer.

Immigrant advocates have been urging the Biden administration to end Title 42, which they say is needlessly cruel and creating a humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Public health experts have also called for Biden to end the policy, saying that there’s no evidence that mass expulsions are helping to curb the spread of the virus, which recently reached record highs despite the restrictive migration policies.

Still, the administration is using the spread of the virus as a reason to justify their continued enforcement of the policy. “The current reassessment examined the present impact of the pandemic throughout the United States and at the U.S. borders, taking special note of the surge in cases and hospitalizations since December due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant,” a CDC spokesperson told CBS News.

Of course, it’s more likely that the administration is keeping the policy because it falls in line with their immigration policy goals; Biden’s Justice Department has been actively defending its use of Title 42 while continuing to separate immigrant families in court. Last month, the agency urged federal courts to dismiss two cases brought by families who were separated by the Trump administration, even though Biden has said in public that such families deserve compensation.

According to counts by immigrant advocates, the Biden administration has deported and expelled over 1.8 million people as of November. This month, the administration began expelling Venezuelan asylum seekers to Colombia and said that it would continue expelling them on a “regular basis.”

The administration has even been deporting people against its own guidance. The Department of Homeland Security warned last year that deporting people to Haiti could be a violation of U.S. human rights obligations, as the country is undergoing violent political upheaval and is still reeling from a devastating earthquake last summer.

Despite that warning, Biden began a mass deportation campaign of Haitians under Title 42, a move that prompted some administration officials to resign from their posts, citing the inhumanity of the policy.

Biden’s immigration policies have been deeply frustrating for immigrant advocates.

“At a moment when America is honoring and reckoning with Black history, we cannot forget what’s still a present-day reality,” the UndocuBlack Network wrote on Twitter this week. “It’s time for [Biden] to end Title 42 and end a racist immigration system that has demonized Black people for far too long.”

“I never would have predicted this White House, within Year One, would be expelling Haitians to a failed state,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, recently told The Hill.

Democratic lawmakers have also urged Biden to stop the use of Title 42. “The recent reports of the Biden Administration removing Venezuelans through third countries is extremely disturbing,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) said in a statement this week. “By continuing to use a page from Trump’s immigration enforcement playbook, this administration is turning its back on the immigrants who need our protection the most.”