The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
End of Title 42 Signals Continued Work for Fair Immigration in the US
By Mike Givens on May 15, 2023
May 15 is International Day of Families, a time to acknowledge the importance of families to our communities. In the United States—and in many parts of the world—a fair and comprehensive immigration system plays a vital role in ensuring that families remain together and are able to make contributions to our communities. With the end of the deadly and regressive Title 42 policy in the United States, there is still more work to do to ensure that people exercising their right to migrate and their families are protected as they navigate the United States’ often challenging immigration system.
Title 42 is a public healthcare policy that allows the United States to summarily deport people exercising their right to migrate without due process or equitable access to the immigration court system. President Trump—declaring immigration from Central and South America into the United States a public health emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic—reinstituted the policy and used it to abruptly deport thousands of people from Central America, Haiti, and Cuba outside of the United States. The Biden administration, despite promises to the contrary, continued use of this policy.
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the use of Title 42 and ordered its termination. On Thursday, May 11, the policy was officially shuttered, to the applause of many social justice activists. However, the Biden administration replaced Title 42 with other policies that make it equally difficult for people migrating into the United States—and Congress is attempting to make legislative strides to do the same.
UUSC is resolute in its contention that these policies are not only regressive, but do nothing to address the dire needs for comprehensive solutions to fix our broken immigration system. But first, we must understand what these policies are.
The Policies Before Us
Several harsh policies are still in effect in the absence of Title 42, and they will be just as harmful to migrating peoples and their families.
On the same day that Title 42 ended, an asylum ban was implemented mandating that people migrating into the United States must first apply for asylum in another country before entering the United States. So, for example, migrating people from Honduras who travel north into Mexico to get into the United States must first apply for asylum in Mexico, which has often proven to be a dangerous location for people in migration. LGBTQ+ people, women, children, Indigenous people, and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to violence, rape, kidnapping, and extortion when in transit through Mexico.
The administration has also heavily encouraged the use of its CBP One app—a smartphone application that has been riddled with algorithmic issues, glitches, and significant concerns around accessibility. The Biden administration has made it possible to punish people seeking asylum who do not apply using the app, which utilizes a “lottery” system to choose which asylum cases to hear. People in migration may not have access to reliable internet or data services, making use of the app—along with its many technical issues—a severe challenge.
Due to the advocacy of UUSC members and our allies in the immigration justice field, we were able to ensure that the transit ban has a few key provisions: In certain circumstances, children are exempt from the asylum ban and in a limited number of circumstances, some migrating people will be allowed to bring their families to the United States. Our collective advocacy ensures that the U.S. government is fully aware of the public’s opposition to the asylum ban and the movement for a better immigration system has only gotten bigger.
While Title 42 has now been terminated, another longstanding U.S. policy—Title Eight—will now be used even more rigorously. Title Eight has always been used at the U.S.-Mexico border, but with the shuttering of Title 42, border officials are expected to use it as the primary tool to expel people in migration. Under Title Eight, people deported from the United States face five- and 10-year bans on reentry into the country—harsh penalties that were not used under Title 42. Title Eight will presume that anyone who arrives at the U.S.-Mexico border outside of a legal port of entry starting on May 12 is ineligible for asylum and, “…subject to steeper consequences for unlawful entry, including a minimum five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution,” according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Next, by a narrow margin, the House was able to pass a border immigration bill—also known as the Secure the Border Act of 2023—on May 11 that would provide significant impediments for people seeking asylum. The bill would restart the building of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a project that had been terminated by President Biden. Also, more funds would be invested in border security staff and technology to surveil the border.
Asylum restrictions would be heightened, children would be allowed to be detained with their parents for months, and the federal government would have more authority to punish firms that hire undocumented workers. Nonprofit organizations who provide services to people in migration would receive less federal funding and the nation’s humanitarian parole program would be severely limited in terms of which country’s citizens would be allowed to apply for parole.
Little Progress, But More Work is Needed.
The Biden administration is pursuing legal pathways for people in migration, however.
Under a new family reunification program, the Biden administration is willing to help 100,000 Central Americans reunify with their families. People immigrating from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia living in the United States—who are permanent residents or U.S. citizens will be allowed to petition the U.S. government to bring immediate family members into the nation. Regional processing centers will be set up in Colombia and Guatemala. The program is new, however, and there are no specific details as to how it will be implemented.
This program would be in addition to an initiative launched in January allowing 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Venezuela to enter the United States if they have a sponsor based in the country and arrive in the country by air. This program also relies on the CBP One app.
The end of Title 42 has spelled the beginning for even more strict border policies in the United States—policies rooted in racism and xenophobia. The most effective solution for these policies and the dysfunction they cause is to fix the broken immigration system. A few potential temporary remedies that the United States can implement include:
- Not bringing back family detention;
- Sending more resources to the border for processing asylum applications rather than expulsions;
- Creating a federal welcome center for the orderly and just acceptance of new immigrants into the nation;
- Providing funds for people in migration to access legal representation for their asylum claims; and
- Working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international bodies to increase refugee and asylum processing stations in Central and South America.
A United States with an equitable immigration system will only come with time, commitment, and a moral mandate for fairness, regardless of country of origin. The images we see of people migrating as Title 42 ends are harrowing and heartbreaking. They tell a very-human story of the perils that can come with migrating—and the need for a compassionate response.
Your support of UUSC helps us not only provide funds to the organizations on the ground who are doing the work of immigration justice, but also helps us in our advocacy efforts to see this immigration system come to light. If you haven’t already done so, please consider either financially supporting UUSC and its migration justice work or increasing your contribution.
Image Credit: Adobe