Title 42: What It Is and Why It Matters Now More Than Ever

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Title 42 has been a buzzword among the immigration community in the US. This public health law, implemented by the Trump administration in March 2020, gave the government broad power to expel migrants, including unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers, at the border without due process or the right to seek protection. The rationale behind Title 42 was to limit the spread of the virus and preserve public health, but critics argue that it disproportionately impacted vulnerable populations and violated their basic rights.

Now, as the Biden administration has started lifting some of the pandemic restrictions, Title 42 has become a hotly debated issue once again. On one hand, advocates are cheering the end of what they call a cruel and unlawful policy that put lives at risk and undermined the asylum system. On the other hand, officials are warning of a humanitarian crisis looming at the border, fueled by an expected surge of migrants and limited capacity to provide humanitarian aid.

So, what is Title 42, exactly? And why does it matter now more than ever?

Title 42 is a provision of the Public Health Service Act that gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to impose measures to control the spread of communicable diseases, including quarantines, isolation, and travel restrictions. In March 2020, the CDC invoked Title 42 to issue an order to suspend the entry of non-US citizens who had been physically present in one of the countries with a COVID-19 outbreak within the previous 14 days. This order applied to the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders, as well as to airports and seaports.

The Trump administration used the Title 42 order as a justification to expel thousands of migrants, including families and children, often within hours of their arrival at the border. The policy was criticized for its lack of transparency, consistency, and accountability, as well as for its disregard of international and domestic laws on refugees and human rights.

The Biden administration, while keeping the Title 42 order in place, has started to exempt some groups of vulnerable migrants, such as unaccompanied minors and some families with young children, from expulsion under limited conditions. However, many advocates argue that these exemptions are too narrow and arbitrary, and that the administration should repeal Title 42 altogether and adopt a more humane and fair approach to border management and immigration policy.

As the pandemic continues to evolve and affect border communities and immigration flows, the fate of Title 42 remains uncertain. While some officials warn of a new wave of border crossings and a strain on resources, others call for a more nuanced and comprehensive response that prioritizes the safety and dignity of all migrants and refugees, regardless of their legal status or health status. The debate over Title 42, therefore, is not only about public health and national security, but also about moral values and human rights.