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Biden admin rethinking plan to lift Covid restrictions that blocked 750,000 from crossing border

NBC News logo NBC News 7/20/2021 Julia Ainsley and Mike Memoli
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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is rethinking its plan to lift Covid-19 restrictions that have blocked more than 750,000 migrants seeking asylum from crossing the southern U.S. border since October, according to three sources familiar with the deliberations.

The sources said the White House and the Department of Homeland Security had previously targeted July 31 as the date to end the public health order, known as Title 42, in internal discussions. But as of Tuesday, those plans were “in flux” and neither agency had sent plans to Customs and Border Protection on how to phase out the policy.

A White House official said the administration isn’t able to commit to when the policy might end. “As we’ve said before, Title 42 is a public health authority, and that authority rests with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. We’ll continue to defer to the public health experts on these decisions and don’t have a timeline to preview on specific plans on when Title 42 is no longer needed,” the White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Currently, under Title 42, all migrants except for children who cross the border unaccompanied may be sent back into Mexico without having a chance to have their asylum cases heard in the United States. While many families and some single adults have been allowed in as exceptions, immigration advocacy groups had sued the federal government to guarantee that families be allowed to make their claims in U.S. immigration courts.

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Last month alone, CBP expelled over 55,000 parents and children who attempted to cross the border together. Since October, over 752,000 migrants have been expelled under Title 42.

The possible pause or reversal of the plan to lift the order, issued by the Trump administration March 20, 2020, follows a surge in Covid cases in the U.S., particularly those caused by the delta variant, and several other recent events that have put pressure on President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed last week for a preliminary injunction that would block the Biden administration’s lifting of Title 42 for unaccompanied children crossing the border, as it did at the beginning of the president’s term.

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Also last week, CBP released numbers from June that showed a 21-year high in the number of migrants encountered at the southern border. Some Border Patrol officials have expressed concern that lifting Title 42 would attract even more migrants to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. southern border.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The sources familiar with the internal deliberations said no firm decision has been made about when Title 42 might be lifted.

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