House Republicans plan vote on border security package as Title 42 ends

Migrants, mostly from Venezuela, were camped out in front of Sacred Heart Church in advance of the planned May 11 ending of COVID-19 border restrictions known as Title 42, that have been in place since 2020, in downtown El Paso, Texas, April 30, 2023. (OSV News Photo by Paul Ratje, Reuters)

By Kate Scanlon

WASHINGTON — As Title 42 draws to its scheduled close, House Republicans are planning to vote on border security legislation criticized by the U.S. bishops.

Title 42, scheduled to end May 11, is part of federal U.S. public health law granting the federal government some authority to implement emergency action to prevent the spread of contagious diseases by blocking some individuals from entering the country at borders or other ports of entry.

Then-President Donald Trump implemented the policy in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the move was seen as part of his administration’s broader attempts to reduce migration. The use of Title 42 to block migrants at the southern border from entry was criticized by some public health experts who argued it was politically motivated rather than evidence-based virus mitigation.

Since it was implemented at the start of the pandemic, Title 42 has been invoked more than 2.7 million times to expel migrants, including those seeking asylum, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

Border security and immigration have become some of the most divisive policy issues in American politics. Republicans have made what they characterize as lax border policies among their key points of criticism of President Joe Biden.

U.S. border officials have said they are preparing for an increase in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border when the policy ends. But Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during an interview on “Face the Nation” on CBS May 7 that “we are prepared” for the end of the policy.

“It’s going to take our plan a while to really take hold, for people to understand that they can access lawful, safe, orderly pathways before they reach the border,” Mayorkas said. “And quite frankly, if they come to the border, they will receive a consequence under our enforcement authorities.”

House Republicans are expected to pass HR 2, the Secure the Border Act of 2023, an immigration bill, the same day Title 42 ends. Their legislation would codify many of Trump’s immigration policies, including the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy requiring migrants to stay in Mexico while they appeal their cases in the United States. The package is not expected to be considered by the Senate, which is in Democratic control.

In a joint statement issued earlier in May, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark E. Green, R-Tenn., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, touted HR 2, arguing that “For more than two years, President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas have watched our southwest border fall into the hands of violent cartels and stood by as their own open-border policies allowed the crisis to metastasize to our northern and maritime borders.”

“This chaos has pushed our Border Patrol agents to the brink, forcing them to work endless hours with no support,” the House Republicans said. “But those on the frontlines know this is not just a humanitarian crisis, it is a policy crisis. As the end of Title 42 approaches, it is clear the Biden Administration’s plan is to continue funding border mismanagement instead of border security.”

But Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, sent a letter urging lawmakers to oppose the bill and “to support the drafting of bipartisan legislation that is more in keeping with our nation’s rich tradition of welcome.”

Bishop Seitz argued the bill “would endanger unaccompanied children and inflict harm on other vulnerable persons, decimate access to asylum, mandate damaging detention and removal practices, restrict access to legal employment, limit — and potentially eliminate — federal partnerships with faith-based and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), undermine the rule of law, and more.”

“We do not question the good intentions of lawmakers who seek to enact legislation that would secure our nation’s borders,” Bishop Seitz said in the letter dated May 5 and released by the USCCB May 8. “Indeed, we join in the call to enact effective and humane border management as part of a framework of comprehensive immigration reforms,” he wrote before adding, moreover, that the bishops “do not discount the challenges at our border with Mexico, nor the right of nations to maintain their borders.”

Bishop Seitz cited St. John Paul II, arguing the saint taught that “our faith also compels us to be ‘vigilant advocate[s], defending against any unjust restriction (on) the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another’ and to call attention ‘to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration.’ “

Arguing there may be individual, unobjectionable provisions within HR 2 that members would support on their own, Bishop Seitz argued that “passage, on the whole, is beyond justification” because of the harmful measures it also contains.

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