Phoenix activists call on Biden administration to end use of rarely-used policy to expel migrants

Haitian migrants continue to cross the US-Mexico border on the Rio Grande, as seen from Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

A rally took place in Phoenix on the night of Sept. 23, calling on President Biden's administration to stop using a legal policy that is referred to as Title 42.

What is ‘Title 42’?

Title 42 of the Public Health Service Act gives federal health officials powers during a pandemic to take extraordinary measures to limit transmission of an infectious disease.

It’s not a new power. The authority has, in various forms, been around since 1893. The Trump administration invoked it in March 2020 to sweeping effect, prohibiting entry by virtually anyone from Mexico and Canada and essentially sealing the northern and southern borders.

It was ostensibly intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in cramped Border Patrol stations or in facilities run by Immigration and Customs and Enforcement. Critics of the policy see it as a thinly disguised measure to thwart immigration, noting it deprives people of the right to claim asylum or seek to remain in the U.S. through some other legal avenue.

Former federal health officials told the Associated Press in 2020 that the Trump administration overruled government scientists who said there was no evidence that invoking Title 42 would slow the coronavirus. Nevertheless, the public health order remains in place and hundreds of thousands of people have been expelled under its authority.

What happened under President Biden?

President Joe Biden has been unwinding many Trump policies targeting both legal and illegal immigration, but the new administration has kept Title 42 in place as COVID-19 continues to rage around the world, and amid an increase in migrants seeking to enter the U.S. at the southwest border, due in part to the economic upheaval of the pandemic and overall conditions in Central America, Haiti and elsewhere.

The Biden administration halted the Trump-era practice of expelling unaccompanied children into Mexico, and has allowed some migrants traveling with their children to stay in the U.S. to pursue asylum claims or other legal residency. However, it has expelled tens of thousands of adults and families under Title 42, insisting it’s a public health measure and not an immigration policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others filed a class-action lawsuit seeking to end the expulsions of families. They seemed to score a victory last week, when a federal judge in Washington said the use of Title 42 in this manner was likely illegal. He said he would order the administration to stop expelling families in two weeks. But within hours the administration said it would appeal.

"The Biden administration claims it wants to distance itself from the Trump administration’s inhumane asylum policies," said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt. "Yet it has retained the most extreme of all the policies, the Title 42 policy that is literally sending families into the hands of persecutors and cartels."

Protesters call for Biden Administration to be held accountable

Protesters at the Phoenix rally chanted for justice at the borders, as they waved their signs. Some of them say President Biden's administration should be held accountable.

"Biden ran on a platform saying that he was going to bring more healing to the country, and yet, we have more violence at the border, and so, they need to be held accountable for this," said one protester.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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