NEW YORK — Responding to the border crisis in Del Rio, Texas, and broader immigration issues, more than 150 Catholic organizations last week implored President Joe Biden to end a policy called Title 42 — federal permission for the immediate expulsion of migrants and limitation of their right to seek asylum.
“Your call and promise during your campaign to ‘restore the soul of the nation’ spoke to a return to morality in furtherance of just and humane law and policy,” the organizations wrote in a Sept. 23 letter to the president. “The continued misuse of Title 42 fails to respect the dignity of migrants and refugees and honor God’s image in every human person.”
There’s been a renewed scrutiny of Title 42 in recent days in light of the Texas borderlands situation where thousands of migrants — most of them Haitians — crossed the Rio Grande River from Mexico into the U.S. and camped beneath the city’s international bridge. The resulting problems escalated, with the newcomers completely overwhelming immigration authorities.
The Biden administration responded by using the policy to expedite removal flights sending individuals to Haiti. The move prompted U.S. special envoy for Haiti Daniel Foote to resign on Sept. 23. A day earlier, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, D.C., who chairs the U.S. Bishops Conference committee on migration, and Sister Donna Markham, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities USA, spoke out against the administration’s handling of the situation.
“Policies such as Title 42 and expedited removal all too often deny the reality of forced migration, disregard the responsibilities enshrined in domestic and international law, and undermine the vulnerability of those against whom they are applied,” they said in a statement.
Immigration advocates, particularly Catholic organizations operating along the U.S.-Mexico border, have consistently advocated against continuing the March 2020 policy since Biden took office.
The president denounced the policy on the campaign trail but has left it in place through the first eight-plus months of his presidency in response to a record number of border crossings.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expelled 938,045 migrants at the border using Title 42 (a section of the United States Code) from October to August — most of the U.S. 2021 fiscal year. The expulsions skyrocketed from February to March, rising from approximately 72,000 to 107,000. The number then peaked in May at about 111,500 and has declined since. There were about 91,000 Title 42 expulsions in August, according to the CBP.
In addition to the 938,045 Title 42 expulsions, CBP detained 535,432 other migrants in fiscal 2021 through August and encountered another 266,825 “inadmissible” migrants — those who seek entry into the U.S. but are deemed not legally admissible. This brought the CBP number of encounters to 1,741,956.
Title 42 expulsions are conducted on the grounds of public health concerns, mainly prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other local leaders have contended that migrants contribute to a rise of COVID-19 cases in some localities, though there isn’t concrete data to back those claims. In the letter to the president, the faith organizations called arguments connecting migrants to COVID-19 as a basis for invoking Title 42 expulsions a “false, hateful, dehumanizing narrative.”
“Even if a true public health risk existed … [the] policy solution would be to provide vaccines and meet healthcare needs, not send asylum seekers back to situations where their lives and freedom are at risk,” the letter said. “Faith- and community-based organizations are ready to assist in providing testing, vaccines, and healthcare but are currently being prevented from doing so.”
The 164 Catholic signatories on the letter hail from 27 states. Among them are the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., Kino Border Initiative, Hope Border Institute, local Catholic Charities units, parishes, and religious congregations.
The organizations also commented that Title 42 discourages decision-makers at every level of government “from legislating and crafting policy with human dignity and heart.” They closed the letter emphasizing the need to be present for the migrant community. The letter was written ahead of the 107th World Day for Migrants and Refugees.
“We cannot absolve ourselves of our sacred responsibility to care for our migrant siblings,” the signatories wrote. “The misuse of Title 42 is a travesty that perpetuates grave harm not only on the migrant community but upon all of us living in the United States. Move the United States towards an ever wider ‘we’ — end the misuse of Title 42.”