What is Title 42?

Title 42 is a previously little-known section of US health law that allows the US government to temporarily block noncitizens from entering the US “when doing so is required in the interest of public health.”  During the Covid-19 Pandemic, it became the prevalent law in effect for the restrictions of international visitors. The Trump administration invoked Title 42 in March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic, as White House officials were recommended by public health officials to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among migrants in crowded Border Patrol stations, as well as limiting the spread of infection from traveling to the United States.  The Trump administration maintained that Title 42 was a means of mitigating “serious danger to migrants, our front-line agents and officers, and the American people,” as then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf stated at a White House event announcing the policy.

Prior to Title 42, the migrants would have been processed at Border Patrol facilities and evaluated for eligibility for asylum and other humanitarian protections that would allow them to remain in the US temporarily, however under Title 42, migrants are returned to Mexico within a matter of hours and without any such opportunity. The policy has effectively reduced the ability of migrants to enter the US, with limited exceptions for some families, unaccompanied children, and Ukrainians.  Over the last two years the United States has used Title 42 to expel around 2 million immigrants since its implementation in March 2020. 

The Biden administration was aiming to end the policies enacted under Title 42, however Louisiana federal District Judge Robert Summerhays temporarily put froze those efforts.  He argued that the administration didn’t follow the correct administrative procedures in ending the policy and that ending Title 42  failed to consider the surge in migration that would result from lifting the policy and the costs border states would incur by supporting social services for additional migrants.

To address this backlog, the Biden administration is in the process of revamping the way that migrants will apply for asylum. Rather than wait in years-long backlogs for a hearing before an immigration judge, they would be referred to an asylum officer and released while US Citizenship and Immigration Services processes their application. The aim was for the application process to take no more than a few months, but the Biden administration acknowledged that USCIS doesn’t currently have the necessary resources, needing $180 million and additional 800 employees to be allocated to this.

Photo by Jorge Alcala

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