The long-running saga of Title 42, the set of emergency powers that allows US border officials to quickly turn away migrants, has been chaotic along the border with Mexico. It hasn’t developed much better in Washington.
The Supreme Court is considering whether that was about to end this week after months of a legal battle launched by Republican-governed states after President Joe Biden’s administration decided to end the Donald Trump-era policy , unless the court agrees. to investigate the matter.
The government has yet to make systemic changes to manage the expected increase in immigrants if the restrictions end. And a bipartisan immigration bill in Congress is buried just as Republicans are about to take control of the House of Representatives.
In short, America is back where it was. A divided nation can’t agree on what a long-term solution to the immigration system should look like. Basic questions—for example, should more immigrants be allowed in or fewer?—remain unanswered. Meanwhile, the asylum system is under intense pressure from the growing number of migrants arriving.
The Biden administration, like its predecessor, has been reluctant to take any drastic steps. This resulted in a barrage of criticism from Republicans, who are using Title 42 to accuse the president of being ineffective when it comes to border security. The rules were introduced as an emergency health measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Democrats have lost the narrative war on this,” said Texas immigration attorney Charles Foster, who was a former immigration policy adviser to Republican President George W. Bush but now considers himself an independent. “The tragedy is that Democrats, more than anyone else, should be focused on this issue, because until and unless this is fixed and perceptions change, we will get nothing through Congress.”
Anyone coming to the United States has the right to apply for asylum, but the laws set a narrow distinction on who actually receives it. Under the Biden administration, migrants arriving at the border often enter the country and are allowed to work while their cases are resolved. That process takes years to reach a conclusion because of a backlog of 2 million cases in the immigration court system that was exacerbated by Trump-era regulations.
Title 42 allows border officials to deny people the right to apply for asylum, and they have done so 2.5 million times since March 2020. The emergency health authority has been inconsistently applied to people from countries that Mexico agreed to receive back: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and most recently Venezuela in addition to Mexico.
“It would not be a good time, politically speaking,” said Jorge Lowery of the activist group American Immigration Council to end the restrictions. He said the government should have made preparations now to create a better system for asylum seekers.
“You have allowed the other side to weaponize this problem. And the longer it remains in effect, the more effective the weapon will be,” he stressed.
Title 42’s authority was first invoked at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic by Trump, whose immigration policies focused on keeping out as many immigrants as possible. It also reduced the number of refugees coming into the country, restricted the asylum process, blocked the system, detained immigrants, and reduced avenues for legal immigration.
Biden has worked to expand legal immigration and rolled back some of Trump’s most restrictive policies. But his government continued the policy until this spring, even after announcing it would expand its use.
Republicans say there will be more chaos if he stands. But even with Title 42 in effect, border officials are facing more migrants than ever. In the budget year ending Sept. 30, immigrants were stopped 2.38 million times, up 37% from 1.73 million times in the previous year.
Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said of the Biden administration, “I don’t know why it’s taking them so long to get serious about resistance.” Capito is an incoming member of the Senate Republican leadership and the top Republican senator on the committee that oversees money going to the Department of Homeland Security, the federal agency in charge of border security.
Border officials are gearing up for the expected surge, and migrants who have arrived are unsure how the asylum process will work if the policy ends. Homeland security officials have reported faster processing for immigrants detained at the border, more tents for temporary detention, increased staffing and more criminal prosecutions against smugglers.
He says progress has been made on a plan announced in April, but massive changes are needed. Meanwhile, Senate Republican leaders have rejected a bipartisan immigration bill that would have addressed some of these issues.
The division does not happen only within the Congress. According to an Associated Press-NORC poll, one in 3 adult Americans believe there is a process to replace Native Americans with immigrants in order to win the election.
Biden and his advisers have said they are working to divert migrants leaving Central America and provide aid to the poorest countries from where the vast majority of people move to the United States. But if Congress does not act, what can the President do?
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration is increasing assistance at the border and will continue to do so. But “eliminating Title 42 doesn’t mean the border is open,” he cautioned. “Anyone who suggests otherwise is just doing the work of smugglers who are once again spreading misinformation, which is very dangerous.”
The Senate on Thursday approved a one-year spending bill that would give 17% more money to the Border Patrol, as well as an additional 13% to the Justice Department to develop an electronic case management system for immigration courts.
But Citizenship and Immigration Services, which are central to the asylum process, got only a third of what Biden proposed to speed up the system.
Democrats, for their part, say they want policies that reflect America’s reputation as a haven for those fleeing persecution. But they cannot agree on what those policies should be.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin has worked on this issue for 20 years. This week he stood on the Senate floor looking dejected as he talked about not being able to pass reform in Congress.
“This is a security and humanitarian nightmare that is only getting worse,” he said. “We are being inundated at the border by people who want to live in the United States, want to be safe in the United States.”
Why can’t Washington find a better way?” he asked.
Associated Press Writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.