The Biden administration will end a contentious policy that allowed U.S. officials to expel unaccompanied child migrants over purported public health concerns, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week.
The move represents a partial rejection of a policy enacted during Donald Trump's presidency that human rights activists condemned as cruel and unnecessary.
The CDC's announcement on Friday followed a federal judge's ruling in Texas this month that the administration can’t continue to exempt children from the expulsion policy. That policy, known as Title 42, was introduced in March 2020 and says immigrants should be turned away at the border to prevent the spread of Covid in immigrant detention facilities. As I wrote late last year, many experts, including some former CDC officials, say the policy isn't rooted in science.
The CDC’s latest move leaves the policy in place for migrant families and adults. But with regard to unaccompanied children, however, the CDC said it can’t justify deporting them on Title 42 grounds after "considering current public health conditions."
When unaccompanied minors are apprehended at the border, they’re typically transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. In an order explaining the CDC’s decision to terminate Title 42 for such minors, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said HHS has measures in place to mitigate the spread of Covid, including testing, enhanced ventilation systems and physical barriers like plexiglass dividers.
The Biden administration’s choice regarding immigrant children is welcomed, but its continued reliance on Title 42 to expel adults and families remains a political problem — as well as an ethical one. In a joint statement, a group of Democratic senators, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said they were “disappointed” in the administration’s decision to keep the policy going in any capacity.
“[I]t is wrong that they made the decision to continue sending families with minor children back to persecution and torture,” the senators said. “With vaccines and testing widely available, there is no public health benefit to sending asylum-seekers back to harm.”