The COVID national emergency declaration ends Thursday, along with other provisions, such as requiring access to free vaccines for all. Several states, including California, have taken steps to ensure that ending the pandemic emergency doesn’t leave people out in the cold. But the repercussions of the emergency declaration ending on border policy is upsetting some Democrats who would ordinarily support the Biden administration.
That key component is the elimination of Title 42, a Trump-era public health edict that allows the federal government the rapid deportation of migrants and denial of asylum claims without a hearing. This is based on the false premise that the coronavirus was spreading into the U.S. through the U.S.-Mexico border. The problem is not that Title 42 is ending, but that the White House is using it as an excuse to essentially further militarize the border by sending nearly 2,000 armed military troops to help deal with what the administration said is an expected “influx” of migrants with Title 42 gone. Some Democrats aren’t having it.
“We shouldn’t be sending active duty military to deal with vulnerable migrants. We condemned (then-President Donald) Trump for doing the same thing. Biden shouldn’t follow his lead and move forward with these plans,” said Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, a Democrat from Illinois. “Military deployment isn’t a replacement for meaningful immigration reform that addresses the key drivers of migration and charts a new way forward rooted in compassion. Sending troops to the border isn’t a replacement for real policy solutions like more funding for food and shelter for migrants.”
The White House stresses that the military personnel are armed only for self-defense and are not going to be engaging in any kind of enforcement action. Actually, a U.S. law enacted after the Civil War prohibits the military from participating in civilian law enforcement except when expressly authorized by law.
Top Democrat Bob Menéndez of New Jersey, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is basically calling that a whole bunch of baloney.
“The Biden administration’s militarization of the border is unacceptable. There is already a humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere, and deploying military personnel only signals that migrants are a threat that require our nation’s troops to contain. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Menéndez said, adding,“The administration has had over two years to plan for the eventual end of this Trump-era policy in a way that does not compromise our values as a country. I have offered them a strategic and comprehensive plan, which they have largely ignored. Trying to score political points or intimidate migrants by sending the military to the border caters to the Republican Party’s xenophobic attacks on our asylum system.”
The White House finds itself in a bit of a quandary here, with members of the president’s own party smacking down the plan for troops at the U.S.-Mexico border around the same time that Biden announces his reelection bid. So the administration’s strategy appears to stress that the military deployment is temporary (just 90 days, for now) and that it has been done in the past, including during the Obama administration that Biden was a part of. Then-president Obama sent nearly 1,500 military personnel to the southern border and they were there for nearly a year at one point.
It’s not anything new, said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during a recent press briefing. “DOD (Department of Defense) personnel have been supporting CBP (Customs and Border Protection) at the border for almost two decades now. So this is a common practice,” she said.
Along with those Democrats decrying the White House move, some immigrant rights advocates also are crying foul.
“People seeking asylum should be met with humanitarian professionals, welcoming volunteers, and medical and mental health professionals. Not soldiers,” said Bilal Askaryar, with the group #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign.
Meanwhile the Texas border city of El Paso has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of what officials there say is a potential for 35,000 asylum seekers crossing the border starting on Thursday.
Other immigrant rights groups are focusing on what they say is the big picture – the lack of any kind of legislation on comprehensive immigration reform.
“The real issue isn’t what happens (this week), rather what happens five years from now if Congress continues to kick the can down the road … the right question and focus shouldn’t be a myopic obsession with what numbers look like in the coming days or weeks. It should be a larger assessment of what policies and vision we need to get right for the coming years and beyond. We have failed to modernize our immigration system for decades and it has not miraculously fixed itself,” said America’s Voice spokesperson Doug Rivlin.
House Republicans have unveiled what they say is “the strongest immigration bill ever” that, among other things, redirects funds from the IRS to border security, would require asylum seekers to cross at official ports of entry, and prevent victims of domestic abuse or gang violence from being granted asylum based solely on that claim. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy promises to bring the legislation to a floor vote this month, even while it has zero chance of passing the House.
These kinds of restrictive measures aren’t going to solve any immigration issue or win any allies particularly among the president’s own party, say observers, pointing also to a recent letter signed by a dozen Senate Democrats, including California Democrat Sen. Alex Padilla that denounces a proposed Biden administration regulation that would disqualify non-Mexican migrants from seeking asylum if they cross the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully without first seeking refuge in other countries along the way. The senators call the proposal counterproductive and unlawful
“Although we support the administration’s goal of managing migration at the U.S.-Mexico border by creating new efficiencies in the asylum system, this rule violates our legal obligations to protect refugees fleeing persecution and usurps Congressional authority by adding unlawful bars to asylum eligibility,” the senators wrote.
Dozens of immigration rights groups and organizations, including the UN Refugee Agency, are also calling on the Biden White House to drop the proposed rule.
That isn’t likely to happen, as the administration last week secured an agreement with Mexico under which Mexico continues to accept migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela (the countries with the largest number of migrants seeking entry into the U.S.) – along with its own citizens — who are deported from the United States. Mexico has agreed to accept those foreign national migrants and asylum seekers for an indefinite period even after the pandemic emergency lapses on Thursday.
“We’re grateful for the Mexican government’s willingness to continue to take and house migrants that are illegally trying to enter the United States,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said at a White House press briefing several days ago.
Mexico also agreed to take up to 100,000 would-be migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who have family in the U.S. and can apply to live and work legally in the states while U.S. authorities process their claims.