Ending Title 42 for illegal border crossings will jeopardize post-pandemic recovery

Biden administration is playing politics with a vital public health authority

A U.S. Border Patrol agent is seen near Columbus, N.M., in April. It is now more important than ever for the Biden administration to preserve Title 42 authority, Katko writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A U.S. Border Patrol agent is seen near Columbus, N.M., in April. It is now more important than ever for the Biden administration to preserve Title 42 authority, Katko writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 11, 2021 at 3:14pm

Border encounters have reached record, deadly levels this summer as the Biden-Harris administration refuses to end ill-informed border policies that ignore science and enflame the ongoing humanitarian, security and public health crisis. This crisis is no longer limited to the hard-hit communities along the Southwest border as unvaccinated migrants are released and transported to localities across the nation.

Throughout the pandemic, border officials have relied upon Title 42, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health authority that allows migrants to be denied entry into the United States due to the danger posed by communicable diseases.

It is now more important than ever for the Biden administration to preserve Title 42 authority. There are reports that COVID-19 cases among migrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector have surged 900 percent with border encounters continuing to skyrocket.

This comes on the heels of the CDC estimating that the Delta variant now accounts for 93 percent of new coronavirus cases in the United States.

As more and more migrants from beyond Mexico and Central America attempt to illegally enter the country, U.S. Border Patrol relies heavily on Title 42 to manage the surge. In June alone, Border Patrol encountered nearly 190,000 migrants — a 450 percent increase from June 2020.

Of those migrants, 46,000 crossed into the U.S. from nations other than Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, up from 9,671 in January.

Many of these migrants are coming from countries with some of the world’s highest infection rates of COVID-19, including India, Brazil and Paraguay. Migrants from more than 160 countries have been encountered at the border in recent months.

Not only are migrants arriving at the southern border from places around the world that are battling rampant COVID-19 infection rates but they are traveling through high-risk South and Central American countries en route to the border.

With current death rates standing at eight times the global average, South America has become a major COVID-19 hot spot. Comprising just 5 percent of the world’s population, South American countries now account for a quarter of the global death toll.

In addition to spiking case and death rates, the low vaccination rates and reliance on ineffective vaccines from China and Russia are just as worrisome.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to rely heavily on Title 42 authority as its best tool for expelling single adults and family units that illegally cross the border. Single adults continue to make up the majority of CBP encounters at the southwest border. In May, CBP expelled 112,302 individuals under Title 42 and another 103,014 individuals in June.

However, the eroding usage of Title 42 authority is proving to be a significant problem. The Department of Homeland Security has gone from expelling the “vast majority” of those trying to enter illegally to just above 50 percent. Just 62 percent of all May encounters and only 54 percent of June encounters resulted in a Title 42 expulsion.

During multiple trips to the southwest border with my Homeland Security Committee colleagues, we were consistently told by frontline Border Patrol agents that Title 42 authority is vital to managing and stemming the surge of migrants at the border.

There continues to be bipartisan support for Title 42. Texas Democrats at the federal, state and local level are on record supporting its continued use, including Democratic mayors from border communities. Meanwhile, the Biden-Harris administration has politicized this authority aimed at safeguarding the health of Americans during a global pandemic.

While President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris refuse to reopen the northern border and continue to impose strict restrictions on international aviation for vaccinated Americans under the guise of public health, their decisions at the southern border send a distinctly different message about their priorities.

The situation is a powder keg. As border encounters continue to climb, unphased by the traditional seasonal declines, and COVID-19 variants run rampant around the world, Biden is playing with fire.

As powerful variants continue to spread, preserving the pandemic recovery in the U.S. is exactly why it’s now so important to keep Title 42.

Rep. John Katko is a Republican representing New York’s 24th District. He is the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee and also serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.