As COVID travel restrictions ease, it’s high time to repeal Title 42

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In November, after 19 months of extreme travel restrictions, vaccinated air travelers who are not US citizens will finally be allowed to re-enter the United States from 33 countries, including many European countries, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. At the same time, the the land borders with Canada and Mexico will also be open for vaccinated travelers.

Since the pandemic struck, travel restrictions in the United States – like those hastily imposed by so many other countries around the world – have often been irrational. A non-citizen of the UK or an EU country, for example, was denied entry for non-urgent travel, and still remains today, despite the fact that since the start of summer, vaccinated Americans have been allowed to return to Europe, and despite the fact that Europe now has a higher vaccination rate than the United States, as well as a much lower daily death toll per capita.

Other travel restrictions in the United States have shown clear signs of class discrimination. For example, citizens of Mexico who could afford plane tickets encountered no obstacle flying in even at the height of the emergency, but Mexican citizens, as well as asylum seekers, who sought to enter the United States via a cheaper overland passage were automatically denied the right to cross.

The irrational and disparate nature of travel restrictions will certainly continue until 2022. For example, despite soaring infection rates in Russia, Russian citizens, whether vaccinated or not, have never been prevented from traveling. to travel to the United States, even when residents of the rest of Europe were. Ironically, however, As new vaccination mandates for air travelers take effect, Russians will suddenly face a huge barrier to access, since the Sputnik vaccine has not been approved by the World Health Organization, and therefore travelers to that country, who will now have to provide proof of an approved vaccine, will suddenly have their access to the United States restricted.

But it is along the southern border with Mexico that the utter irrationality and cruelty of pandemic-era travel restrictions remain fully exposed. The closure of the border with Mexico is a particularly distasteful example of an exclusionary policy masquerading as a public health response; and despite the opening of the land border for vaccinated travelers with legal travel documents, public health measures – in particular the use of Article 265 of Title 42 of the 1944 Public Health Services Act – will continue to be used along the border as an immigration policy tool rather than as a legitimate response to the pandemic.

In late winter 2020, as the pandemic intensified, Trump administration officials saw an opportunity to redouble their efforts to close the southern border to potential migrants and to advance their nativist agenda. Stephen Miller, Trump’s heinous conspirator on anti-immigrant regulations, had long tried to invoke public health codes as a means of banning various categories of immigrants, especially those who were poor and non-white.

Before the pandemic, White House lawyers had rejected the idea. But, with the escalation of the COVID pandemic, Miller revisited the idea of ​​pressuring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to invoke Section 265 of Title 42, a public health measure. little used allowing border sealing and denial of entry (and due process) to potential asylum seekers during public health emergencies. Trump’s lawyers have agreed the situation allows for drastic restrictions on entry fees.

By sealing the southern border, Miller and his fanatics were able to use the reasoning that people trying to gain access to the United States were likely vectors of infectious disease. Trump, who had long spoken of impoverished immigrants of color as vectors of crime and sickness, happily endorsed Miller’s strategy. (The New York Times reports that he also wanted to Miller’s idea of ​​deploying a quarter of a million US troops to the southern border – a proposition so extreme that the Pentagon itself quickly ended such discussion.)

The invocation of the provision by the CDC has been updated in September 2020 and again a month later, all in an effort to lock up asylum seekers and keep the southern border a corner issue in the minds of conservative voters.

When Biden became president, he made allow modification of the implementation of Title 42, so that families with children are not automatically sent back to Mexico. And thousands of families have have been allowed to enter the country in recent months. But that reform was more than countered by another reality: As attempts to cross borders increased in the first few months of the new presidency, the Biden administration increasingly turned its attention to enforcing the law. title 42. Between February and August of this year, nearly 700,000 people were returned across the border by border patrol officers using the public health benefit as justification. Essentially, despite the new administration tinkering at the margins, the basic structure of the exclusion policy remains in place; and, since a Federal appeals court rejected ACLU-led legal effort to force administration to end its use of Title 42, it will stay in place in the New Year.

As the shameful and violent border patrol response to Haitian asylum seekers in South Texas shows last month, the US approach to vulnerable migrants along the southern border remains largely an exercise. of brutality.

Stephen Miller’s devilishly creative use of public health measures against impoverished migrants has brought water to Trump’s mill as the pandemic escalates. But, it turns out, Trump wasn’t the only political leader who found the flawed public health rationale convenient. Almost two years after the start of the COVID crisis, as the United States stumbles toward gradually reopening access to world travelers, and the country’s own public health emergency continues in large part because so many Americans refuse to get vaccinated, the Biden team seems eager to keep Title 42’s draconian and inhumane policies in their toolbox.

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