Under pressure from public outcry against harsh restrictions and human rights violations at the border, the Biden administration is now in the process of ending the use of the controversial “Title 42” policy. The final end date is set for May 23. Title 42, implemented by Trump in the early days of the pandemic, ended the processing of asylum claims supposedly due to concern that allowing more people to enter the country would exacerbate the COVID crisis. A feigned concern for public health masked the real intent of the policy: close the borders completely.
The racist Trump policy was continued with minor modification by the Biden administration for over two years. In that time, record numbers of deportations and apprehensions by Customs and Border Patrol indicated the scale of the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border and the need for urgent humanitarian aid to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.
An estimated 1.7 million people were apprehended trying to cross the southern border last year. The vast majority of these people were turned away and deported under Title 42. Many of the refugees are from places that have been devastated by the actions of U.S. imperialism, including Haiti and countries in Central America. The Biden administration drew criticism for its violent crackdown on Haitian refugees in September, evoking scenes reminiscent of slave catchers as Border Patrol agents attacked the refugees with shocking brutality.
Biden’s move to end Title 42 is not driven by a sincere desire to alleviate the suffering of refugees but by cold political calculus. The White House’s recent budget proposal calls for funding CPB and ICE to the tune of $15.3 billion and $8.1 billion respectively. These massive sums will increase the militarization of the U.S. border and criminalization of refugees trying to cross it. Showering CPB and ICE with more weapons, training, and personnel will not make the U.S. immigration policy more “humane.” Instead, more refugees will be forced to avoid heavily policed border crossings by attempting perilous desert journeys and risk death from exposure or dehydration.
Immigrant rights activists have long been demanding that Biden end Title 42, pointing out the huge gap between his campaign trail promises of a more humane immigration system and the reality of his administration’s policies. This hypocrisy made it clear that Biden is no friend of immigrants and will cynically use this issue to advance his own political career. Especially in light of the lifting of other COVID-related measures across the country, the pressure eventually became too much to bear and Biden was forced to grant this concession.
But the militarization of the border, along with ICE terror throughout the country, continues unabated, and millions of undocumented people are forced to live in the shadows. Now is the time to redouble organizing efforts for an immigration policy that will respect human life rather than end it.