UPDATE (Dec. 27, 2022, 4:30 p.m. EST): On Tuesday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow Trump-era immigration policy Title 42 to remain in effect, staying a lower court ruling that would have ended it last week.
When Joe Biden was running for president, his campaign website correctly called out then-President Donald Trump’s hostility toward immigrants, a hostility that included Trump’s implementation of a new rule known as Title 42 that closed the southern border to asylum-seekers under the guise of preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants,” the language on Biden’s campaign website read. “It’s wrong, and it stops when Joe Biden is elected president.”
On Biden’s campaign website there were promises to build “a fair and humane immigration system” and to restore “the progress Trump has cruelly undone.” We were told the Democratic challenger would “secure our border, while ensuring the dignity of migrants and upholding their legal right to seek asylum. He will enforce our laws without targeting communities, violating due process, or tearing apart families. He will ensure our values are squarely at the center of our immigration and enforcement policies.”
The vow to treat asylum-seekers with “dignity” was a broken campaign promise from Biden. There is no other way to categorize it. His administration is just now announcing a plan to end Title 42. According to an order issued Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the harmful policy will end May 23, quite conveniently in a midterm election year.
But the move might be too late to help Democrats politically. Title 42 has been, as Boston Globe columnist Marcela García wrote this week, “an unconscionable moral stain, a cruel ruse” initiated by Trump and maintained by the current administration. Biden should have immediately made good on his campaign promises to end Trump’s cruelty, but he didn’t.
For asylum-seekers — people who have valid reasons to flee from worsening economic conditions, violence and climate changes — the consequences have been many: basic lack of due process, deplorable conditions in makeshift migrant camps and constant dehumanization.
Just last year, border agents confronting and turning back Haitian refugees seeking asylum were as cruel as any immigration action under any recent American president. Those Haitian refugees were turned back because of Title 42. That rule was also the basis for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, an immigrant born in Cuba, to clear out migrant camps. “Title 42 is a public health authority and not an immigration policy, and it is important to note that Title 42 is applicable, and has been applicable, to all irregular migration,” Mayorkas said then.
When the CDC announced in a March 20, 2020, public order that it was implementing Title 42 to prevent the spread of Covid, Trump-appointed CDC Director Robert Redfield admitted that Mexico had only 53 confirmed cases on March 17 and that the United States had reported 2,797 new cases that day — that is, nearly 53 times as many. Within days of the CDC public order and with a closed border, new cases in the United States soared to more than 20,000 per day.
The pandemic was already here, and the lie that asylum-seekers from the Global South were bringing the virus to the U.S. was just another strategy Trump hatched up to end the legal right of individuals to seek asylum. Title 42 was just another xenophobic tool used by an America that has a tradition of blaming diseases on foreigners.
Even though the policy was used to block an estimated 1.7 million attempts by migrants to cross the border, Covid-19 continued to ravage the United States. As of Tuesday, the CDC estimated the U.S. has had around 80 million cases and nearly 1 million deaths.
Despite the announcement that Title 42 is ending, in the eyes of the Biden administration, migrants are still a security problem, a nuisance. An NBC News report about the CDC ending Title 42 said, “U.S. officials, state governors and local officials have warned of a potential surge of more than 170,000 migrants,” demonstrating the degree to which both Republicans and Democrats view foreign human lives as soulless data points.
There’s an unfortunate tradition of moderate Democrats talking about “secure borders” that fails to make the humanity of those seeking help a part of the national conversation.
We ought to treat asylum-seekers with actual dignity and compassion, but we have an immigration enforcement system that is based on national security issues — a policy applauded by President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s that escalated in a post-9/11 world. Title 42 should have been ended more than a year ago, but Biden and other Democrats lacked the bravery to defend migrants, at least those from Central America. Despite Title 42 being in effect, Ukrainians fleeing war are being allowed to make asylum claims at the same border where Central American refugees are being denied.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is still detaining migrant children in the thousands — more than 10,000, to be exact.
At what point will Biden be held accountable? The liberal uproar against Trump’s cruel immigration policies was justified, but there is also unwarranted celebration for Biden merely restoring the broken immigration policies that existed before Trump.
If Democrats are content reaching that bar instead of working to raise the bar, our immigration issues will never be solved, and migrants will always be blamed.
That’s not the “fair and humane immigration system” Biden promised.