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NEW YORK – While hoping for the best amid an appeal by the Biden administration of a district judge’s decision to end a controversial Trump-era measure allowing immediate expulsion of immigrants, advocates for new arrivals along the U.S.-Mexico border say their focus remains on the migrants they encounter.
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, the USCCB Migration chair, who was recently praised by Pope Francis as a “good pastor,” told Crux he’ll leave the legislation to the politicians and focus on ensuring that those who arrive to the diocese “will find a ready help from us – a smiling face, a prayer, and tangible assistant for their desperate need.”
The Biden administration filed its appeal of Title 42 earlier this week. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan last month ruled that the policy was “arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act,” and set its end date for Dec. 21 to give officials time to create a plan for an expected influx of migrants seeking entry into the U.S. once the policy is lifted.
Implemented by the Trump administration in 2020, Title 42 not only permits swift deportation but also limits immigrants’ legal right to asylum. It was enacted as a public health measure through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to undo the policy, but his administration has done the opposite – embracing the measure as a tool to try and curb a record number of border crossings over the past two years, and even expanding its scope to include Venezuelans back in October.
The Biden administration’s appeal of Sullivan’s decision states that “the government respectfully disagrees with this Court’s decision and would argue on appeal, as it has argued in this Court, that CDC’s Title 42 Orders were lawful … and that this court erred in vacating those agency actions.”
The Biden Administration didn’t ask for a stay of Sullivan’s decision in its appeal, so it appears at the moment that Title 42 will still be lifted on Dec. 21. The appeal suggests, however, that the Biden administration is instead looking to preserve the CDC’s authority to impose the measure or something similar.
“HHS [The Department of Health and Human Services] and CDC have themselves decided to undertake a new rulemaking to reconsider the framework under which the CDC Director may exercise her authority under [Title 42] to respond to dangers posed by future communicable diseases,” the appeal states.
Dylan Corbett, executive director of the El Paso, Texas, based Hope Border Institute, told Crux that it’s hard to tell the Biden administration’s intent with the appeal, but he hopes they’re “acting in good faith.”
“Our federal officials on the ground are working very closely with us to make sure that we’re as prepared as possible, so we hope the White House is acting in good faith and that we’re all rowing in the same boat on the way to a place where we finally have the ability for vulnerable people to claim protection at the border,” said Corbett, who is an official at the Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section, and serves as a U.S. Bishops Conference Migration Committee Consultant.
Joanna Williams, the executive director of the Kino Border Initiative that works with migrants in Nogales, Arizona, and across the border in Nogales, Mexico, told Crux that they have real concerns that even if Title 42 ends on Dec. 21 that it would then restart or take another form. She said that “would be particularly damaging for the folks again here at the border to once again go on this roller coaster of emotions, and really leave families over the holiday season in limbo without access to protection.”
“There’s nothing in those recent maneuvers [by the Biden administration] that makes me feel more positive about Title 42,” Williams said. “We’ve seen since the Biden administration came into power that they’ve really struggled to commit to a sustainable path for offering people protection at the border.”
Aside from the Biden administration’s appeal, 15 states filed a motion to intervene last month to try and delay Title 42 from being lifted. A group of 24 states previously won a nationwide injunction in May to keep the policy in place after the Biden administration announced its plans to rescind it.
Advocates, though, say their focus is preparing for the likelihood that Title 42 is rolled back in 11 days.
Corbett said in El Paso they’re working to increase the capacity to receive migrants by bringing additional faith communities on board to help, and working with the Diocese of El Paso to expand the number of parishes that can provide hospitality, as well as border patrol, federal, and local officials.
“It’s going to be challenging, no doubt, because we’re going to have to start flexing muscles we haven’t flexed in a while,” Corbett said. “I’m heartened by the collaboration that we have on a local level … and the Catholic Church is playing a major part here on the border so we hope the Catholic Church stands up across the country to begin that work of hospitality.”
Williams similarly said the collaboration on a local level over the past several months between the local government, organizations and border patrol has given her “a lot of hope” because there’s been a focus on making an “end to Title 42 practical” with a sustainable and coordinated plan.
“That brings me a lot of hope because I think that the more we as a community can come together and show that yes, this will be a challenge, but won’t rise to the level of a crisis or won’t overwhelm the community then it also makes it more politically viable to end the policy,” she said.
Proponents of Title 42 argue the policy is needed to handle the record number of migrants crossing the southern border in recent years. Advocates argue that the policy doesn’t prevent migrants from trying to enter the country, and leads to migrants making multiple attempts.
Corbett argues that the policy forces migrants to seek more dangerous areas of the border to cross, which leads to more deaths, and places an incredible strain on the border system because it creates a build up of people waiting to make their protection claims at the border. He added that it also puts an “enormous strain” on border patrol agents, who because of the policy are forced to focus less on other priorities like deadly drugs – such as fentanyl – entering the country.
“We need [immigration reform], but in the meantime Title 42 is generating an incredible crutch on the system that I think is unworkable both for vulnerable people on the move and for border enforcement agents,” Corbett said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg