“After considering current public health conditions and an increased availability of tools to fight Covid-19 (such as highly effective vaccines and therapeutics), the CDC Director has determined that an Order suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary,” said a CDC statement released on Friday.
The agency said the order will end in May in order to give the Department of Homeland Security time to put Covid-19 mitigation protocols in place, including ramping up its program to vaccinate migrants. It said it would work to “implement additional COVID-19 mitigation procedures” that will “sufficiently mitigate the Covid-19 risk” for Americans, given the fact that more than 97 percent of the country is now categorized as at low risk under the agency’s guidelines.
The long-awaited decision sparked an immediate backlash in Washington from lawmakers who say the administration is not prepared to deal with the likelihood of an increase in the number migrants at the border, a politically and logistically thorny issue for the party in a midterm election year. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have questioned how the administration will manage this change at the border after two years of limited migration.
“Ending Title 42 prematurely will likely lead to a migrant surge that the administration does not appear to be ready for,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) wrote on Twitter. “I’ll keep pushing the administration to strengthen border security & look forward to hearing directly from border agents during my upcoming trip to the border.”
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement on Friday that by ending the order, President Joe Biden is “doubling down on his commitment to actively worsening the crisis he created.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, following the CDC’s announcement, that DHS “is always preparing for the ebb and flow of migration patterns.”
“We are increasing our capacity to process new arrivals, evaluate asylum requests, and quickly remove those who do not qualify for protection. We will increase personnel and resources as needed and have already redeployed more than 600 law enforcement officers to the border,” he said in a Friday statement.
In a call with reporters on Friday, DHS officials said Title 42 would remain in place until it ends in May, while DHS got its new vaccination program for migrants in Customs and Border Protection custody off the ground.
DHS started the program this week with the goal of administering up to 2,000 vaccines to migrants a day at 11 locations along the border and has plans to expand to as many as 6,000 vaccines a day at 27 locations in coming weeks, a DHS official said.
Democratic lawmakers, public health experts and immigration advocates have been ratcheting up pressure on the administration to end the order as the U.S. Covid-19 overall case numbers have dropped and pandemic restrictions have relaxed.
In March, the CDC ended the order for unaccompanied minors, saying it was no longer necessary to expel them as a public health measure. A D.C. District Court also upheld an injunction to stop the government from using the policy to expel families back to countries where they might face persecution or torture without a mechanism in place to claim asylum.
Immigration advocates have long argued that the policy violates international humanitarian law by blocking people from seeking asylum in the United States, and is out of step with Biden’s pledges to create a “fair and humane” immigration system.
Human Rights First says that there have been nearly 9,900 incidences of kidnapping, torture, rape and other attacks on people who have been expelled under Title 42 during the Biden administration alone.