DEVELOPMENT… The story will be updated as new information can be verified. Updated 4 times
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration should end asylum limits at the U.S.-Mexico border by May 23 that were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to people familiar with the matter.
The decision, not yet final, would end the use of public health powers to exempt the United States from its obligations under U.S. law and international treaties to provide sanctuary for people fleeing persecution, and would apply to all asylum seekers.
The end of limitations in May would allow time to prepare at the border, the people said. But the delay goes against the wishes of top Democrats and others who say COVID-19 has long been used as an excuse for the United States to evade asylum obligations.
It also raises the possibility of more asylum-seeking migrants coming to the border at a time when flows are already high. The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that about 7,100 migrants are arriving daily, down from an average of about 5,900 a day in February and on pace to match or exceed the highs of last year, 2019 and other peak periods.
President Joe Biden declined to discuss his administration’s plans, telling reporters Wednesday at the White House, “We’ll have a decision on that soon.”
Each time the limits are lifted, its communications director said “there will be an influx of people at the border. We are doing a lot of work to plan for this eventuality. Generally speaking, Kate Bedingfield said the administration is trying to “build up our migration system and make sure we restore order to the border.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had extended its asylum blocking powers for two months in late January, near the peak of the omicron variant. The authority is up for renewal this week, and officials were expected to announce as early as Friday that it would be terminated, giving border officials a few months to prepare for the next deadline.
People familiar with the plans saw a draft report that was not finalized and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.
The limits were put in place in March 2020 under the Trump administration as coronavirus cases soared. While officials said at the time it was a way to keep COVID-19 out of the United States, there have always been criticisms that the restrictions were used as an excuse to seal off the border to migrants. unwanted by then-President Donald Trump.
It was perhaps the broadest of Trump’s moves to restrict crossings and crack down on migrants. The health order has resulted in migrants being deported from the United States more than 1.7 million times since March 2020 without them being given the opportunity to seek asylum.
And the restrictions took effect over objections from CDC officials, and Dr. Martin Cetron of the Division of Migration and Quarantine refused an order to begin its use. He said there was no public health basis for such a drastic decision, the AP reported. But then-Vice President Mike Pence ordered the CDC director to use the agency’s emergency powers and it went into effect.
As mask mandates were lifted, vaccination rates soared and COVID-19 rates plummeted among migrants from Mexico, it became increasingly difficult to defend order on scientific bases.
Biden, who rolled back some of Trump’s other more restrictive policies, has come under increasing criticism for keeping the policy.
Homeland Security officials, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and other leading Democrats have increasingly voiced their desire to end the so-called Title 42 authority, named of a 1944 Public Health Act aimed at preventing communicable diseases.
Not all elected Democrats agreed, including some from border and swing states. Senses Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, both Democrats from Arizona, sided with Republican leaders to say Title 42 should stay until US border officials are prepared for a surge in newcomers .
“Border Patrol agents told me they expected a human tsunami to cross the border and Border Patrol said they would completely lose control,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R -Texas.
Homeland Security officials said they expected up to 18,000 arrivals a day, a stunning number they warned was simply to prepare for all possible outcomes, not projections .
But there have been no major changes to how migrants are treated at the US-Mexico border and no increase in detention facilities for them. The immigration court backlog continues to climb to more than 1.7 million cases.
Critics say Title 42 was an excuse to avoid asylum obligations under US law and international treaty, buying Biden time to create the ‘humane’ asylum system he promised during his 2020 campaign.
“Title 42 is a horrific and unwarranted policy that should never have been enacted and which has caused serious harm to thousands of asylum seekers over the past two years,” the immigration attorney said. Lee Gelent of the American Civil Liberties Union.
While there is no overall rate for migrants, COVID-19 test results from several major corridors for illegal border crossings suggest it is well below levels that have raised concerns among officials. Americans.
In California, 54 of 2,877 migrants tested positive in the first two weeks of March, according to the state Department of Social Services. That’s a rate of just 1.9%, down from the January 8 peak of 28.2%.
In Pima County, Arizona, which includes Tucson, the seven-day positivity rate among migrants was just 1.3% in early March. The positivity rate among 5,300 migrants tested last month at the Regional Center for Borders Health near Yuma, Arizona, was 0.1%.
McAllen, Texas, the largest city in the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, has a higher rate among migrants – 11.3% for the week ending March 16 – but it has always been lower than the general population .
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted a drop in rates when she ended asylum limits for unaccompanied migrant children on March 11, while retaining them for adults and families with children. In August, US border officials began testing children traveling alone in their busiest areas: positive results dropped to 6% in the first week of March, from a high of nearly 20% in early February.
Asylum limits have been applied unevenly by nationality, largely based on costs and diplomatic relations with countries of origin. Many migrants have been spared by Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and, more recently, Ukraine. Homeland Security officials this month wrote to border officials that Ukrainians could be exempt, saying the Russian invasion “has created a humanitarian crisis.”
Dearen reported from New York and Spagat from San Diego. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Michael Balsamo, Nomaan Merchant and Farnoush Amiri in Washington and Garance Burke in San Francisco contributed to this report.