WASHINGTON — Editor's Note: The video above is a July 29 from our sister-station in San Antonio.
The Biden administration is indefinitely extending a Trump-era COVID pandemic policy that lets the United States quickly boot undocumented immigrants out of the country without court hearings, BBC reports.
As the news outlet explains, the policy is meant to slow the spread of coronavirus at holding sites and has led to about 940,000 people being expelled from the U.S. in the last year. But, as critics say, it also prevents people from seeking asylum.
At the moment, the CDC believes the health risks to Americans outweigh the humanitarian concerns about the undocumented families reaching the northern or southern borders. So, the federal government is using powers under Title 42 to kick out asylums-seekers.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement saying it had determined "noncitizens" migrating over U.S. borders were creating a "serious danger" of introducing more coronavirus cases into the country.
The CDC says the policy will remain in effect until Director Rochelle Walensky determines "the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States from covered noncitizens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health."
Unaccompanied children are exempt from the policy.
The decision by the Biden White House to keep the policy has caused the American Civil Liberties Union to revive its lawsuit challenging the government's public health authority.
"We gave the Biden administration more than enough time to fix any problems left behind by the Trump administration, but it has left us no choice but to return to court. Families’ lives are at stake," wrote ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who is taking the lead on the case, in a statement.
Karla Marisol Vargas, senior attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, described the decision to continue with Title 42 removals as "beyond cruel," adding that it essentially shuts down the nation's asylum system. Vargas believes it's "illegal."
"People have a legal right to seek safety in America and our government has the resources to safely process them into the country to have their cases heard," Vargas explained in a statement. "Initial promises on the part of the Biden administration to phase out Title 42 for only family units will not do enough. It is time to double down on the push to end Title 42 and force the government to follow the law.”
Tami Goodlette is the director of litigation at The Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services. In a statement through the ACLU, she said the "the Title 42 expulsion scheme has created a mess at the border and the administration continues to shroud avenues for border processing in secrecy."
And while no single factor is responsible for the current situation at the border, "a mess" is a fair assessment. According to the Texas Tribune, federal officers made more than 1.1. million apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year alone. Numbers that high haven't been seen since 2006.
BBC says more than 210,000 migrants continued to stream across the border in July alone when crossings typically drop amid the summer heat.
“We are in the hottest part of the summer, and we are seeing a high number of distress calls to CBP from migrants abandoned in treacherous terrain by smugglers with no regard for human life,” Troy Miller, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told the Texas Tribune.
The flow of undocumented immigrants has caused holding facilities to grow packed – unable to handle social distancing. That's happening at the same time DHS Assistant Secretary for Border and Immigration Policy David Shahoulian tells BBC his agency is seeing migrants test positive for COVID-19 at "significantly increased rates."
As The Daily Beast points out, the border crisis is causing divisions in the Democratic party. When Biden accepted his party's nomination in 2020, he vowed to end then-President Trump's "assault on the dignity" of immigrants.
“We're going to restore our moral standing in the world and our historic role as a safe haven for refugees and asylum-seekers," Biden said at the time.
Now, those promises appear to be on pause. In talking with insiders, the Washington Post reports the administration fears it will be blamed if COVID cases spike at the border.
And, that's entirely possible. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a shot at Biden during a news conference Wednesday – a day after the president criticized Florida's handling of the pandemic.
“Joe Biden has taken to himself to try to single out Florida over COVID. This is a guy who ran for president saying he was gonna, quote, shut down the virus and what has he done? He’s imported more virus from around the world by having a wide-open southern border," DeSantis said.