President Joe Biden’s administration late March 12 said it was formally ending the expulsion of illegal immigrant children through use of a pandemic-era rule.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), terminated the public health order known as Title 42 with respect to youth who arrive at the border without a responsible adult, a group known as unaccompanied children.
Title 42, imposed during the Trump administration, enabled immigration authorities to expel illegal immigrants because of fears they posed a health threat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soon after Biden took office in 2021, the government stopped expelling unaccompanied children, alleging doing so was cruel and inhumane.
But U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, a Trump nominee, ruled on March 4 that the administration could no longer exempt unaccompanied youth from Title 42.
The children “spend, on average, more than a day clustered at a DHS facility, where they can expose other detainees, DHS personnel, and American citizens and residents to whatever viruses they are carrying,” Pittman said.
The government has been taking care of thousands of unaccompanied children while trying to locate a parent or another responsible adult who can take charge of them. As of March 10, there were about 600 such children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection, which runs facilities at or near the border, and some 9,800 in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), which manages facilities around the country, according to a government statement. Over 159,000 have been released into the U.S. interior since January 2021.
In its order (pdf) terminating Title 42 with respect to unaccompanied children, Walensky said she found “that there is no longer a serious danger of the introduction, transmission, and spread of COVID-19 into the United States as a result of entry of [the children] and that a suspension of the introduction of [the children] is not required in the interest of public health.”
The termination was based in part on how COVID-19 metrics have plunged in the United States in recent weeks and an assessment that mitigation measures at facilities holding the children have helped reduce transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, known as SARS-CoV-2 or the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
The termination took effect immediately; it came just as Pittman’s order would have taken effect.
The CDC is keeping Title 42 in place for other populations, including single adults.
The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had asked Pittman to make the government expel illegal immigrant children because of concerns about the spread of the CCP virus, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, wrote on social media that the decision didn’t make sense since Title 42 will still be applied to illegal immigrants other than unaccompanied children.
“Also, if ‘current public health conditions and recent developments’ warrant lifting Title 42 for UACs, then *all* COVID restrictions need to be lifted. You can’t pretend that illegal-alien teenagers are magically different,” he said.
On the other hand, Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the decision was justified but called on the administration to “immediately end” Title 42 for families and adults as well.
The CDC’s move came about a month after officials at the agency said they’d decided to keep Title 42 in place, alleging it was necessary due to current pandemic conditions.
It also came after the administration revealed in a report (pdf) that deportations of illegal immigrants reached a record-low in fiscal year 2021, dropping from 185,844 the previous fiscal year to just 59,011. Deportations are counted separately from expulsions.
Under Biden, the United States set records for the number of illegal immigrant apprehensions at the southern border for both a fiscal year and calendar year, including a record number of unaccompanied children.