Migrants cross into Juárez after being expelled from the United States under Title 42 in March 2021. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

El Paso-area congressional leaders reacted with divergent opinions to recent reports that the Biden administration is preparing to lift Title 42, a provision of public health law that has been used since 2020 as a way to rapidly expel asylum seekers at the border.

While U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, expressed hope that the Biden administration will soon rescind the controversial practice, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, joined 21 other members of Congress in signing a joint letter urging Biden administration officials to keep the measure in place. Gonzales’ congressional district stretches over 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, from El Paso to Del Rio.

NBC News reported that the policy will be lifted on May 23 according to unnamed officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly notified the Department of Homeland Security Tuesday that it was planning to make the change.

Although federal and international law establishes a right to seek asylum in the United States, Title 42 has been used since March 2020 as a legal rationale to quickly expel migrants without letting them apply for asylum. Both the Trump and Biden administrations justified the practice as a way of preventing the spread of COVID-19, although medical experts, including chief White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said there is no evidence that migrants have driven the spread of COVID-19.

More than 1.7 million migrants have been turned away at the border under the provision, a practice that immigrant advocates say violates asylum laws and results in widespread human rights abuses.

Human Rights First has tracked nearly 10,000 incidents of kidnapping, torture, rape and other violent attacks against people who have been expelled to Northern Mexico under Title 42.

“The use of Title 42, introduced by the Trump Administration, effectively eliminated access to legal asylum in our country,” Escobar said in a press release Thursday. “I have been calling for an end to Title 42 since it began and I am hopeful that the Biden Administration will soon rescind it.”

But Gonzales and other Texas members of Congress warned that DHS was unprepared for a potential rise in migrant apprehensions, arguing that the agency relies on Title 42 to prevent Texas border communities from becoming overwhelmed.

“We urge that the CDC’s Title 42 order remain in place and that DHS continue to use it until such time as the number of apprehensions along the southwest border drops to a manageable level,” the joint letter read.

The El Paso migrant shelter Annunciation House has already begun preparations to receive more migrants in anticipation of the lifting of Title 42, the El Paso Times reported Monday. 

René Kladzyk is a freelance reporter who also performs music as Ziemba. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.

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