CDC confirms it will repeal the public health order restricting immigration

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that it would lift an emergency public health order that had restricted immigration at U.S. land borders since the pandemic began, citing “current public health conditions and an increased availability of Covid19 ordnance.”

Federal officials expect the policy change, which takes effect on May 23, will draw thousands more migrants to the southwestern border each day, adding to the already high number of people who have arrived over the past year from Latin America and around the globe . Republicans, who have described the border situation under President Biden as out of control, immediately condemned the CDC’s decision. The order has been used to expel migrants about 1.7 million times in the past two years.

“I hereby state that the risk of further introduction, transmission or spread of Covid-19 into the United States from covered non-citizens, as defined in the August order, no longer poses a serious public health threat,” said Dr. Rochelle P Walensky, the CDC director, wrote in her rationale for ending the policy. She also said she could issue a new order in the future “based on new evidence, as public health needs warrant.”

The order, known as Title 42, gives officials the power to turn migrants away at the border, including asylum seekers. The process takes about 15 minutes, a factor that has helped border police deal with the sometimes overwhelming number of undocumented migrants that accumulate at the border.

Without the order, stations will be more crowded and secured while officers go through the typical screening process, which can take more than an hour per person. As part of the normal process, migrants who fail to provide a legal reason for being in the United States are detained pending deportation. Those who seek asylum are typically released, often with surveillance equipment, while they are absent from court hearings.

The continuation of the public health order over the past two years has pushed the typically apolitical CDC into the heated immigration debate, even as the Biden administration has argued that the order is not being used to manage illegal migration.

The agency was under increasing pressure from Democratic lawmakers, including New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Majority Leader, not only to end the rule but to justify why it was necessary.

Public health experts have questioned the value of the coronavirus containment order, especially at this point in the pandemic. The Biden administration this week began offering immunizations to undocumented migrants at the border — about 2,000 a day along 11 border areas, the department said. In the next few weeks, this number is expected to increase to 6,000 vaccinations per day at 27 locations.

“These measures, along with the current public health landscape, where 97.1 percent of the US population resides in a county rated “low” at the Covid-19 community level, will reduce the Covid-19 risk for US communities sufficiently mitigate,” the CDC said in a statement.

News of the decision broke on Wednesday; legal challenges are expected.

When the CDC explained why it was extending the order in August, there were an average of more than 60,000 Covid-19 cases per day, the highly transmissible Delta variant was causing more hospitalizations and deaths from the virus were increasing.

Now, case numbers have fallen sharply in most of the United States, and the CDC has eased many restrictions. The average number of cases on Thursday was less than 28,000 per day. An omicron subvariant, BA.2, could cause a further rise in the United States in the coming months, although it does not appear to cause widespread serious illness in Europe, where case numbers are higher.

The White House and Department of Homeland Security have in recent months referred questions about the policy to the CDC, which said little about its reasons for extending the order.

But unlike other public health measures introduced during the pandemic, the CDC has never publicly released any scientific data that showed undocumented migrants crossing the border were a major vector for the coronavirus.

“It is far from clear that the CDC’s order serves any purpose,” a panel of judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote in March in a ruling on a public health rule case.

dr Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said immigrants are not a driving force in the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

“Focusing on immigrants, deporting them or whatever is not the solution to an outbreak,” he told CNN in October.

The order – which proponents say has put many people deported under it at grave risk due to violence, poverty and instability in their home countries – has faced multiple court cases. Immigration advocates were under the impression that the Biden administration was working to lift the rule on some migrants last summer, but that never happened.

Some advocates said this week waiting until the end of May for the order to be lifted would put the lives of vulnerable asylum seekers at further risk.

“Given the length of time the administration has had to plan for the end of Title 42, the number of lives at stake every day, and the court decisions declaring Title 42 illegal, it is important that the administration begin handling Title 42 immediately and not wait until the end of May for that,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who was one of the leading voices arguing that the immigrant family rule should be repealed.

Border officials inconsistently enforce the order, applying it a little over half the time they encounter migrants. This has led to a great deal of confusion among migrants as to whether they should attempt it.

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, warned in a statement that smugglers are offering transportation to southern areas the US border “will spread misinformation to take advantage of vulnerable migrants.”

He said, “Let me be clear: Those who cannot find legal grounds to remain in the United States will be expelled.”

Because border officials didn’t have to ask migrants if they feared returning to their country because of the public health order, officials expect the summer surge to include a significant number of asylum seekers. Those who qualify for asylum typically wait years—sometimes a decade—for their case to be heard because the immigration court system is so overloaded.

Some critics have also said that the rule has fueled racist notions that immigrants carry infections to the United States and has been used more as a means of controlling immigration.

Even before the pandemic, the Trump administration was attempting to get the CDC to use its powers to issue such an order to address a mumps outbreak in immigration detention centers in six states and separately when border patrol stations were ravaged by the flu. These attempts were unsuccessful, in part because other administrators argued that there was no legal basis.

On Friday, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel slammed the administration for lifting the rule, echoing the Republican talking point that illegal immigration has spiraled out of control since Mr. Biden succeeded former President Donald J. Trump. Illegal immigration had also peaked under Mr Trump in 2019. However, in 2020 it declined due to the restrictions put in place by his government and the pandemic.

“By removing Title 42, Biden redoubles his commitment to actively aggravating the crisis he is creating,” Ms. McDaniel said in a statement. CDC confirms it will repeal the public health order restricting immigration

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