The Biden administration is expected to end asylum limits on the US-Mexico border on May 23 that were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to people familiar with the matter.
The decision, which is not yet final, would end the use of public health powers to relieve the United States of obligations under US law and the international treaty to protect people fleeing persecution, and would apply to all asylum seekers.
Ending restrictions in May would give time to prepare at the border, people said. But the delay goes against the wishes of top Democrats and others who say COVID-19 has long been used as an excuse for the US to get under its asylum obligations.
It also raises the possibility that more asylum seekers will come to the border at a time when flows are already high. The Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday that about 7,100 migrants arrived daily, compared to an average of about 5,900 a day in February and on pace to match or exceed the peaks of last year, 2019 and other peak periods.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had extended their asylum-blocking powers by two months in late January, near the peak of the ommicron variant. The authority is due to be extended this week, but officials have not yet formally decided to end it and an announcement was expected in the coming days.
Those familiar with the plans saw a draft report that has not yet been finalized and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.
President Joe Biden declined to discuss his administration’s plans on Wednesday, telling reporters at the White House, “We’ll make a decision on that shortly.”
The limits were introduced under the Trump administration in March 2020 as coronavirus cases skyrocketed. While officials at the time said it was a way to keep COVID-19 out of the United States, there has always been criticism that the restrictions were used as an excuse to seal the border on migrants unwanted by then-President Donald Trump.
It was perhaps Trump’s most comprehensive move at the border to restrict border crossings and crack down on migrants. The health order has resulted in migrants being expelled from the United States more than 1.7 million times since March 2020 without a chance to apply for asylum.
The limits went into effect over objections from CDC officials, and Dr. Martin Cetron of the Migration and Quarantine Department refused the order to start using it. He said there was no public health basis for such a drastic move, the AP reported. But then-Vice President Mike Pence ordered the director of the CDC to use the agency’s emergency powers, and it went into effect.
The restrictions on applying for asylum became more difficult to defend on scientific grounds as mask mandates were lifted, vaccination rates rose and COVID-19 rates fell among migrants crossing from Mexico.
Biden, who has reversed some of Trump’s other more restrictive policies, has faced mounting criticism for maintaining the policy.
Homeland security officials, the Senate Majority Leader, New York City’s Chuck Schumer, and other top Democrats increasingly spoke of wanting to end the so-called Title 42 authority, named after a 1944 public health law to prevent communicable diseases. to prevent.
Schumer called it “staggering that the (CDC) continues to recommend the extensive use of these draconian policies at the border, contradicting the overwhelming signs of America’s pandemic recovery led by President Biden.” His comments were made this month in a joint statement with the Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez from New Jersey, and Alex Padilla from California.
Not all Democratic elected officials agreed, including some from border and swing states. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, both Democrats in Arizona, sided with Republican leaders in saying Title 42 should remain until US border authorities were prepared for a surge in new arrivals. Two Democratic congressmen from Texas border districts, Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, signed a letter Tuesday urging the same.
Homeland Security officials said on Tuesday they had plans for as many as 18,000 arrivals per day, an astonishing number that they warned should simply prepare for all possible outcomes, not projections.
But there have been no major changes in the way migrants are handled at the US-Mexico border and there has been no increase in reception facilities for them. The immigration court backlog continues to rise to more than 1.7 million cases.
While there is no overall rate for migrants, COVID-19 test results from several major illegal border crossing corridors suggest it is well below levels that have raised concerns among US officials.
In California, 54 of the 2,877 migrants tested positive in the first two weeks of March, according to the State Department of Social Services. That’s a rate of just 1.9%, down from a peak of 28.2% on January 8.
In Pima County, Arizona, which also includes Tucson, the seven-day migrant positivity rate did not exceed 1.3% in early March. The positivity rate among 5,300 migrants tested last month at the Regional Center for Border Health near Yuma, Arizona, was 0.1%.
McAllen, Texas, the largest city in the busiest illegal crossing corridor, has a higher percentage of migrants — 11.3% for the week ending March 16 — but it was consistently lower than the general population.
Critics say Title 42 has been an excuse to evade asylum obligations under US law and the international treaty, giving Biden time to create the “humane” asylum system he promised during his 2020 campaign.
Justin Walker, a federal judge on the Washington appeals court, wrote this month in a policy limiting order that it was “far from clear that the CDC order serves any purpose” for public health. Walker, who was appointed by Trump, noted that the Biden administration has not provided detailed evidence to support the restrictions.
“The CDC’s injunction resembles in some ways a relic of an era with no vaccines, scant testing, few therapies, and little certainty,” Walker wrote before a panel of three judges.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noticed falling rates when she abolished asylum limits for unaccompanied minor migrants on March 11, while keeping them for adults and families with children. In August, US border authorities began testing unaccompanied children in their busiest areas, with positives dropping to 6% in the first week of March, from a high of nearly 20% in early February.
The limits have been applied unevenly by nationality, largely dependent on costs and diplomatic relations with home countries. Many migrants have been spared from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and, more recently, Ukraine. Officials from the Interior Security Service wrote to border authorities this month that Ukrainians may be exempted, saying the Russian invasion has “caused a humanitarian crisis”.