On November 15, a federal judge declared a policy commonly known as Title 42 to be unlawful. Implemented by the Trump administration early in the pandemic, the policy was used to block nearly 2.5 million attempts to seek asylum at the southern border under the guise of reducing COVID transmission. The Biden administration, which retained the policy and oversaw the vast majority of expulsions, must comply with the new directive by December 21.
Title 42 is part of the Public Health Service Act of 1944, but was never invoked until March 2020, when President Trump directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use it as a border control measure. After campaigning on promises to rectify Trump’s border policies, including Title 42, President Biden has expanded its use significantly after taking office.
In practice, the policy has never been about public health. It has been used to close the border to refugees fleeing Central America, demonizing them as “criminals” bringing drugs into the US. Title 42 expelled people either to their home country or to Mexico, and was primarily wielded against refugees from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.
“The majority of people fleeing parts of Mexico are fleeing drug-war violence,” Hollie Webb, lead attorney for Al Otro Lado‘s Border Rights Project, told Filter in 2021. “That’s one of the things Title 42 is doing. It’s putting people directly at harm that’s caused by the drug war.”
The US has repeatedly targeted Venezuela for so-called “trafficking.”
In April 2022, Biden made an attempt to end Title 42, but was promptly sued by right-wing opposition. The policy remained in place.
But in October, Biden further expanded Title 42 to people fleeing Venezuela—expelling some to Mexico, which had not previously accepted South American refugees. The Venezuela expansion came in the heat of a midterm election cycle when Republicans were attacking the Biden administration’s border policies.
Because neither Mexico nor their home country would accept them, many people fleeing Venezuela had previously been able to receive asylum and enter the US. Now, a limited number will be “paroled” across Mexico; several thousand have been in the past few weeks alone.
People expelled under Title 42 are often stranded in unfamiliar locations across Mexico where they have no resources or support networks. Thousands are kidnapped, raped and murdered. Imperialist US policies in which the federal government has repeatedly targeted Venezuela for so-called “trafficking” have gained ground since the onset of the pandemic.
The five-week delay in ending Title 42 was at the request of the Justice Department, to “prepare for an orderly transition to new policies at the border,” according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security. It is not yet clear what those policies will be.
Photograph via United States Customs and Border Protection