HOUSTON — On Friday a federal judge in Louisiana heard arguments whether President Trump’s health policy used to expel migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border should be lifted or remain in place. He didn’t issue a ruling immediately, but promised one soon.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the policy, known as Title 42, is no longer necessary to control the spread of COVID-19. Thus, the immediate migrant expulsions using this health rule, according to the CDC, should stop May 23. Republicans challenged the decision in court, saying the expulsions should continue.
Border Patrol Union representatives say the agents are working under the assumption their ability to quickly remove people from the country using Title 42 will go away May 23.
“It’s very unlikely that Title 42 ends on May 23,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy counsel with American Immigration Council, told KENS 5. “The Republican attorneys general are arguing that the Biden administration's decision to end Title 42 on May 23 will cause more people to come to the border – something that they oppose – and that they believe will cause more costs to their states.”
“For the average agent right now, we’re just sort of in limbo,” said Jon Anfinsen, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council and a border patrol agent working in the Del Rio area. “Title 42 was always supposed to be a temporary measure, ideally, tied to the pandemic. Picking an arbitrary date like May 23 hasn't made sense to us.”
Since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, the U.S. has removed more than 1.8 million people who crossed into the country, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
After reviewing the use of Title 42 for months, President Biden’s CDC moved to terminate the health measure effective May 23, saying it was no longer needed to control the disease.
Nearly two dozen states sued.
“Keeping Title 42 in place is going to mean years more chaos at the border,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “Not only is Title 42 not justified by the public health risks, but Title 42 has been a failure over the last two years. Thanks to Title 42, the rate at which people crossed the border more than once has skyrocketed, and one in three border encounters over the last two years have been a person apprehended on their second or higher attempt to cross the border.”
CBP has admitted that the rate of people crossing the border multiple times after being expelled under Title 42 has been “higher than usual.”
Anfinsen told KENS 5 that, whether Title 42 goes away May 23 or not, he expects border crossings to pick up.
“What we're expecting come May 23 is we will get busier, we will see more people trying to swim across the river,” Anfinsen said. “The May 23 date has been advertised internationally. So even if the judge decides that date is no longer a factor, we’re suspecting people are still going across simply because they've heard that that date was a thing, but maybe they won't get the update if it is indeed put on pause.”
Anfinsen said one of his major concerns is how many people will drown in the Rio Grande, attempting to swim over. The ports of entry, where migrants could come across the bridges from Mexico onto the U.S. side and ask for asylum, have been closed since the start of the pandemic. Ukrainian refugees have been the only exception to that, with several thousand allowed in through the ports of entry—mostly in California, but some reportedly in Texas as well.
“The issue with Title 42 going away, isn't necessarily that the authority itself is going away. It's that we do not have an alternative in place,” Anfinsen told KENS 5. “The White House, Congress, somebody needs to figure out a policy that will allow people to cross the border in an orderly fashion, because this can't continue. We can't sustain this.”
“I always have to say this: We are the United States. There are almost no challenges that we can face that we are not able to solve,” Reichlin-Melnick added. “The idea that the U.S. government is going to collapse because a few more, 1,000 asylum seekers are coming and asking for our help is simply ridiculous,” said Reichlin-Melnick.
KENS 5 reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for comments on this story. We’ll update it when and if we hear back.