Vice President Kamala Harris seems to have done an about face when it comes to closing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Then-Sen. Harris, D-Calif., signed on to an April 2020 letter with fellow Democrats accusing the Trump administration of violating federal law when it took the drastic step of citing the pandemic to shut the southern border.
But now, Politico reports Harris supports the Biden administration's decision to keep the border closed under the very same provision, according to two people familiar with the vice president's thinking.
The Trump administration used Title 42 to seal the border under the argument that migrants trying to cross could pose a health risk during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Biden administration is employing the same policy.
Immigration advocates have filed legal challenges, and public health experts say the policy has "no scientific basis as a public health measure."
More than 60 House Democrats, saying it has no legal basis, have urged President Joe Biden to end the policy — but little has changed.
"While the Biden administration inherited an extremely challenging situation after years of inhumane border policy, I believe that ending this misuse of Title 42 should be a priority," said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., specifically immigrants sent back to Haiti. "It is very hard for me to justify this inaction to my constituents as we await notification and an explanation from the administration."
Harris, meanwhile, has remained silent amid accusations Title 42 is being used to control immigration but not the pandemic – something she claimed Trump did.
"It's really inexplicable that the Biden administration continues to use this Trump-era Title 42 policy to block and expel asylum seekers to life-threatening dangers in Mexico and the countries they have fled," said Kennji Kizuka, associate director of research and analysis for Refugee Protection at Human Rights First. "There's no public health basis or justification for the policy. There wasn't one when the Trump administration began expelling people and there isn't one now."
Biden administration officials want to fulfill their campaign promises on immigration but have faced difficulties after quickly reversing Trump's policies. Doing so created other problems, such as trying to process and house a record number of unaccompanied children crossing the border.
Harris, who expressed more progressive positions than Biden during the presidential primaries, was put in charge of dealing with the border crisis.
Some allies worry Harris has been more concerned with earning Biden's trust than sticking to her beliefs, and that could hurt her future political prospects.
"The administration's position is her position," a White House official said. "Just given where we are with the pandemic, the administration — her, the president, administration-wide — are supportive of Title 42 being in place until HHS cancels the order."
One administration official blamed the current situation on Trump abusing his authority, and added the pandemic has changed since last year.
"At the time, looking at it in 2020, what President Trump was doing, some of the arbitrary executive orders and rules that that administration was putting into place on a broad scale, many would think there was an overreach of power," the official said. "You had Donald Trump implementing policies that would be outside his bounds. Now being in the administration, there is justification for it, sadly. But there is, being in the middle of a public health crisis."
The Title 42 policy dates back to 1893, when the U.S. was looking to regulate shipping companies bringing in people with cholera.
The Department of Health and Human Services renews Title 42 monthly, according to the White House official. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also is supposed to conduct a monthly review on the policy, according to an October 2020 CDC order.
Biden also has called for a review, though it's unclear if that has happened.
Under the law, tens of thousands of migrants are refused entry each month, though exceptions are being made for unaccompanied children to stay for humanitarian reasons.
"Title 42 is still in place because we are still in the midst of fighting a global pandemic," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on April 21. "So I don't have any predictions of when that will change."
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