Border health and travel restrictions rile immigration advocates, businesses and elected officials

Border state governors, including Ariz. Gov. Doug Ducey, are calling on the Biden administration to continue the use of Title 42, a Trump-era public health measure that permits the expulsion of migrants at the United States-Mexico border as a means to slow the cross-border spread of Covid-19.

Ducey sent a letter to Biden on July 16, saying, “As Arizona continues to deal with the man-made crisis at our border, ending Title 42 will threaten the health and safety of not only Arizonans, but all Americans, and our already broken border will explode, overwhelming border patrol, law enforcement, non-profits and health care professionals.”

The governor was joined by border state members of congress Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., and Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, in backing a resolution in support of Title 42.

“During my recent trip to the Southern Border, agents from throughout our immigration system—Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations and Air and Marine Operations, Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement—all highlighted the importance of Title 42 Public Health Authorities in protecting our nation from COVID-19 and enhancing our border security,” Lesko said in a statement.

The Biden administration is under pressure from progressive groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to drop its use of Title 42.

The Trump administration in 2020 enacted Title 42, which allows for the expulsion of undocumented migrants through the public health authority held by the federal government. The previous administration justified Title 42’s adoption under the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which allows for the director of Disease Control to deny any entry into the United States if they believe that “there is a serious danger to the introduction of a communicable disease into the United States.”

Despite the opposition from progressive interest groups, the Biden administration has not ended Title 42’s use. The administration has cited Covid-19 concerns, including recurring outbreaks and variants of the virus, as justification for leaving the policy in place. 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that Title 42, “is driven by the public health imperative. It is not a tool of immigration. It is a tool of public health to protect not only the American people but the migrants themselves.” 

The ACLU, a Title 42 opponent, and other progressive groups last week took the battle over the measure to court, arguing that it is being used as an anti-immigration tool rather than as part of a Covid-19 mitigation effort. 

While Title 42 has been in effect, the U.S.-Mexico border has seen record numbers of asylum seekers. 

In the first six months of 2021 there were more than 900,000 encounters at the border, of which 575,000 were immediately turned away under Title 42. 

Dylan Corbett, the executive director of the Hope Border Institute, said the migrant surges are indicative of the need for broader immigration system reforms.

“That means things like making sure that we are rebuilding our refugee system to receive refugees from around the world, that we are taking positive steps to receive asylum-seekers and restore the process of asylum at the border,” he said. 

The Centers for Disease Control earlier this month issued an announcement about extending the order because the risk of transmission of Covid-19 at the border is still prominent. 

The agency said that the order “shall remain in effect until the CDC Director determines that the danger from covered noncitizens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health, and the order is no longer necessary to protect the public health.”

The debate over Title 42’s use is occurring alongside the severe restrictions on so-called “non-essential” border crossings at the U.S. northern and southern borders that apply to documented travelers, including from neighboring Canada and Mexico.

The U.S. since March of last year has limited the entries at land border ports of entry only to those crossers engaged in what DHS deems essential travel, like traveling to work or school.  

The restrictions at the land ports of entry, which apply to documented Canadian and Mexican nationals as well as travelers from outside North America, do not exist in the air environment, which means a Mexican national with a valid visa can fly into the U.S., but cannot drive.

The restrictions have harmed border community economies, according to business community advocates.

Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce south of San Diego, said his community has struggled. 

“Sad part is, 1,900 jobs were lost, 1,900 families that counted on mom or dad for a job to put food on the table, those jobs don’t exist anymore,” Wells said. “Look, on San Ysidro Boulevard, 95% of our clientele is coming from Mexico, and the vast majority of these are pedestrians with tourist visas, precisely those that can’t come across today and haven’t been able to for 18 months.”

The mayors of San Diego and surrounding Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, National City, and Coronado co-signed a letter last month to Mayorkas about the consequences of the travel restrictions. 

“Our region is suffering from a weekly economic hit to our retail sector of at least $7.5 million due to the continuation of non-essential travel restrictions,” they wrote. 

Taylor Hersch

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