Expulsions under Title 42 are a result of a 1940s era public health statute that permits the CDC to close the border to “nonessential” travel. Back in March of 2020 when the Trump administration was barely beginning to consider taking coronavirus seriously it nonetheless quickly acted to activate provisions that prevent migrants from seeking asylum at our border with Mexico. Potential asylees were then, at the discretion of the Border Patrol agent, processed according to Title 42 and quickly returned to Mexico rather than according to Title 8 which governs normal immigration procedures and requires access to asylum. The Trump administration began applying Title 42 to migrants despite the lack of support for such measures by public health data even as the border remained open to tourists and other travelers.
President Biden is continuing this Trump-era policy in the face of criticism and legal challenges. Migrants are sent back into Mexico after having crossed the border, sometimes many miles from where they crossed in the first place. There, as this article from the LA Times explains, their problems are compounded because they are subject to gangs of kidnappers. The expulsions by the Border Patrol are a bonanza for these gangs, who wait and pick up migrants after they are dropped off in a strange city. Once the gangs kidnap someone, the kidnappers check cell phones for US numbers, hoping to find friends or family already in the US who can be extorted for ransom money. Those hit up for ransom money may then be forced into debt in order to rescue loved ones.
The Biden administration appears to be worried that pent-up demand at the border will lead to more more border crossings and more asylum seekers, possibly increasing the administration’s political vulnerability as those on the right attempt to pin a “border crisis” on Biden’s policies. At the same time, there are legitimate reasons to seek to reduce the rate of attempted border crossings: it takes time to rebuild the capacity to process migrants at the border, capacity which was encouraged to atrophy under Trump. But we must continue to hold the Biden administration to higher standards, the consequences otherwise can be horrific.