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Protests demand end to 'horrible' rule used to expel 1.7 million migrants

The Rev. Noel Andersen calls it the “horrible Title 42 policy,” a Trump-era rule that has been used to turn away more than 1.7 million asylum-seekers since it began two years ago Monday as a COVID-19 precaution.

Andersen, a former Arizona resident, was one of several dozen protesters who marched from the Trump International Hotel to the White House to demand that the Biden administration end the policy, which was extended last month and is up for review in April.

“We all know why we are here today: The horrible Title 42 policy … is blocking asylum,” said Andersen, a grassroots coordinator at the United Church of Christ.

“That started under the Trump administration,” he said. “But now, the Biden administration has continued these policies, so that’s why we’re starting here at the Trump Hotel and we’re taking the streets to the White House, where we will demand that the Biden administration end Title 42.”

It was one of a number of similar protests scheduled across the U.S. and in Mexico, including rallies scheduled for Phoenix and Nogales, Sonora, calling for an end to the policy. Since it was first invoked in March 2020, Title 42 has been used to expel a total of 1.72 million migrants, including 310,088 who have been turned away in the Yuma and Tucson sectors of the border.

Even though it is a Trump administration policy, just over 1.25 million of those migrants have been expelled under the Biden administration, which immigration advocates find particularly frustrating.

“We still had those images of children in cages, parents being separated, of … 20 or 30 people in one small room,” said Jose Patiño, the director of education and policy at Arizona-based Aliento, who was not at Monday’s rallies. “We were hoping that the administration was going to keep its promise … to end Title 42.”

In Washington, protesters chanted in both English and Spanish as they walked to the White House with a truck displaying an LED sign with slogans like “It’s past time to end Trump-era policies at the border.” Some protesters joined a separate rally in front of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – which officially enacted Title 42 as a COVID-19 measure – where activists read testimonies of migrants who were denied entry to the U.S.

But proponents of the rule say Title 42 is still necessary as the country enters a third year of the pandemic, and to make up for what they call the Biden administration’s weakening of other immigration protocols.

“If there is an ongoing threat (from COVID-19), it seems to me as a non-expert observer then certainly you want to keep policies in place to protect public health,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

“But even without the public health threat there needs to be operating systems in place that prevent people from coming across the border illegally, regardless of the status of COVID,” Mehlman said. “And that does not exist in this administration.”

Title 42 was imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It prohibits entry to all undocumented migrants who arrive at the U.S. border in order to protect public health.

When he took office in January 2021, President Joe Biden kept Title 42 in place but ordered that it not be used to turn away unaccompanied minors. But the policy has been attacked in court on two fronts.

A federal district judge in Texas threatened earlier this month to block that change, unless the CDC could provide a better justification for why minors should be excluded – which the agency did on March 11.

A separate U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., also said on March 4 that the Biden administration cannot use Title 42 to return migrants to countries where they would face persecution.

Meanwhile, the CDC, which reviews the policy every 60 days, said in February that the policy was still needed because of ongoing pandemic concerns. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, and Customs and Border Protection’s only response was that it enforces the rule.

Title 42 is set for another review in April, but Patiño said groups like his “don’t understand why we’re still here” and won’t be satisfied until what he called a “white nationalist policy” is ended for good.

“It’s just creating a … larger number of people that could be processed and they’re not going to go anywhere,” Patiño said. “So we’re just making it harder for ourselves.”

In addition to Washington, rallies Monday were held both virtually and in California, Massachusetts and New York in the U.S., and in Tijuana, Reynosa and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. The protest in Phoenix was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona while the Kino Border Initiative organized the Nogales, Sonora, event.

“This is not a kind of birthday that we want to celebrate because it is a birthday of injustice,” said the Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea with the Disciples of Christ, who spoke at the D.C. rally. “It is a day that we know calls upon us to ask for a new solution to restore asylum now.”

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Camila Pedrosa/Cronkite News

The Washington protest calling for an end to Title 42 was one of several held around the U.S. and in Mexico, including rallies scheduled for Phoenix and Nogales, Sonora, on Monday, the second anniversary of the rule.

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