Photo: Sandor Csudai. KNUM.org. Creative Commons
The Trump administration used a number of policies to stop migration into the United States. These policies include the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the Remain in Mexico policy, and Title 42. The Biden administration has kept these policies in place, which forces asylum seekers who have escaped violence in their home countries to either be returned back to that very danger or to suffer violence, illness, and death in Mexico.
Advocates have repeatedly called for the end of these policies because they violate U.S and international asylum law and do irreparable harm to asylum seekers.
After pressure from many lawmakers and advocates, on April 1st, 2022 the Biden administration announced the end of Title 42. It is set to end on May 23th. But what does the end of Title 42 mean for asylum seekers? What does it mean for border communities and the rest of the country?
What is Title 42?
Title 42 of the U.S code is a public health law that grants the government the "power to prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property" to stop a contagious disease from spreading in the U.S. In March of 2020, the Trump administration enacted an order utilizing Title 42 as a tool to stop the entry of asylum seekers into the country.
At the time, the Trump administration explained that the policy was necessary “to prevent the transmission of the [COVID-19] virus coming through the border.” Since its implementation at the border, public health experts have said that Title 42 is not an effective way to limit the spread of Covid-19. The policy also put migrants directly in harm’s way.
Asylum seekers were often detained and kept for several days or even weeks in mass detention facilities and then expelled to Mexico where they had to endure other unsanitary conditions such as overcrowded encampments or shelters. Because of this, asylum seekers were further exposed to the virus in addition to facing many dangers in Mexico. Many asylum seekers were also sent back to their countries of origin, where they were put back into the same life-threatening situations that forced them to come to the US/Mexico border in the first place.
An unnecessary and inhumane policy
For months after President Biden took office, advocates continued to denounce Title 42 as a cruel policy. By expelling migrants and asylum seekers into Mexico, they became vulnerable to organized crime and many became victims of human trafficking, sexual abuse, and kidnappings. According to human rights defenders, during the Biden administration so far, at least 9,886 people were kidnapped, tortured, raped, or in some way violently attacked because they were expelled to Mexico under Title 42.
Despite campaigning on a promise to end this cruel policy, for its first year, the Biden administration continued it. Since inauguration day, more than 100 members of Congress, in addition to public health and policy experts, have joined efforts to demonstrate that the policy is unnecessary and has no real impact in containing the spread of the virus.
For instance, in a letter to the Biden administration, public health experts mentioned “... the revised order ignores the scientific consensus that the risks posed by the [COVID-19 variant] can be mitigated through public health measures. It also rests on several flawed assumptions, including: [ …] that migrants serve as vectors of disease transmission; and that expelling asylum seekers to harm is an effective, legally and morally acceptable option to protect public health.”
Biden announces the end of Title 42
On April 1, 2022, the Biden administration announced its plan to end Title 42 by May 23 of 2022. In a press call after the announcement, national faith leaders voiced their support for the decision and said that they were ready to welcome all asylum seekers.
One of the arguments against ending this policy is that the number of people who will now be able to enter the United States to request asylum will overwhelm the facilities that will welcome them. This ignores the fact that the United States has a national and international legal obligation to welcome asylum seekers, and also that faith-based organizations and humanitarian non-profit organizations along the border have always been at the forefront of responding to asylum seekers’ needs.
Time and time again, border communities have demonstrated that they are willing and able to welcome anyone looking for safety and, in light of the proposed end of Title 42, many of them have said that they are ready to provide the necessary shelter capacity and support asylum seekers need.
Trying to keep Title 42 in place
Despite the Biden administration’s decision to end Title 42, lawmakers are trying to keep the policy in place. Soon after Biden’s announcement, a group of Democratic and Republican congresspeople introduced two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, that would keep Title 42 operational for the near future. The argument for these bills is that there will be “chaos” at the border if the policy is ended.
As we’ve mentioned previously, this argument from these lawmakers ignores the fact that government agencies partner with faith-based organizations and humanitarian non-profit organizations along the border to efficiently welcome and process asylum seekers. For example, the recent resettlement of both Afghan and Ukrainian refugees proves that the US government has the necessary resources to process asylum seekers. When it comes to asylum seekers arriving at the US/Mexico border, the real question is whether we have the political will to extend the same compassion.
What can you do?
As people of faith, we have a moral obligation to welcome migrants. In his pastoral letter, “Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso summarizes the Catholic Church’s teaching on “welcoming the stranger” succinctly:
[Church] teaching rests on ancient foundations. The Old Testament is clear: “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:34). Jesus himself was a refugee on the flight into Egypt (cf. Mt. 2:13-23). We know that God stands on the side of migrants, and “is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16). Every human being bears within him or her the image of God, which confers upon us a dignity higher than any passport or immigration status.
We need to ensure that the Biden administration’s plan to end Title 42 goes into effect. We can all help make this happen by contacting our members of Congress to tell them to oppose all anti-asylum policies and to support the end of Title 42. You can write to them here.
In addition to advocating for an end to harmful policies, you can also donate to the faith-based organizations and humanitarian non-profit organizations along the border that have always been at the forefront of welcoming migrants. For example, the Missionary Society of St. Columban provides critical services to asylum seekers arriving in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico across the border from El Paso, TX. Some of the services that we provide include assistance with housing, food, and other basic needs and also helping them navigate resources like legal counsel and hospital care. You can donate to our migrant ministry here.
God’s command to “welcome the stranger” is not easy to hear. It challenges us to acknowledge that other people’s needs are just as important as our own. It confronts us with the uncomfortable truth that US policies that have enriched this country have terrorized our neighbors in Latin America and the Carbbiean. In many respects, the dangers that asylum seekers are fleeing from were created or enabled by US policy.
But we know from scripture that love overcomes fear. We know that when we welcome migrants, we meet angels in disguise (cf. Heb 13:2). Pope Francis reminds us that by welcoming migrants, we have "an opportunity to meet Jesus Christ, who identified himself with the foreigner who has been accepted or rejected in every age."