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Texas GOP slams Biden over end to pandemic border policy as advocates say decision came too late

A line of parents carrying children walk across a bridge. Two men in U.S. Customs and Border Protection uniforms stand to the side and watch.
Paul Ratje for KERA News
Families that crossed the border in the Rio Grande Valley are expelled to Mexico after arriving to El Paso on a flight from Brownsville, Texas in Ciudad Juárez Chihuahua, Mexico on March 24, 2021.

Texas Republicans said Biden's decision to end what’s known as Title 42 will lead to chaos at the border. There had been mounting pressure on Biden to end the policy since he took office more than a year ago.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made official Friday that Title 42, a health directive used since 2020 to promptly expel asylum seekers at the border, will end May 23.

The policy was enacted in March 2020 by the Trump administration in what it said was an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. But the policy was blasted by immigrant rights groups and some Democrats because it denied migrants a chance to seek asylum in the United States, which is a legal right under current law.

In a statement, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said expulsions of single adult migrants and families will continue through late next month.

“Once the Title 42 Order is no longer in place, DHS will process individuals encountered at the border pursuant to Title 8, which is the standard procedure we use to place individuals in removal proceedings,” Mayorkas said.

Texas Republicans have sounded alarm bells for months and were quick to criticize the official announcement Friday.

"Instead of listening to the millions of Americans that his administration has endangered—and instead of enforcing immigration laws passed by Congress—President Biden has chosen to jeopardize the safety and security of those very Americans he swore to protect and defend by ending Title 42 expulsions,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “Ending Title 42 expulsions will signal to cartels and migrants alike that our southern border is now wide open—inciting even more violence, more trafficking, and more lawlessness.”

Earlier this week, Texas Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn urged Mayorkas and the CDC to keep the policy in place.

“At the current levels of cross-border migration, DHS currently lacks adequate capacity to process and detain all migrants apprehended along the southwest border,” they wrote. The letter was co-signed by their Texas Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives and two border Democrats, U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez.

The lifting of major border-enforcement policies has historically preceded an increase in migrants trying to enter the United States, something Mayorkas acknowledged in his statement Friday.

“We know that smugglers will spread misinformation to take advantage of vulnerable migrants," he said. "Let me be clear: those unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed."

Department of Homeland Security officials said last week they are preparing for a significant increase in arrivals after the restrictions are lifted, NPR reported earlier this week.

"We need to be prepared for what we're considering a potential contingency, which is that the lifting of Title 42 could increase flows," a senior DHS official said during a briefing with reporters, according to the report. Some scenarios include up to 18,000 apprehensions in a day.

Advocacy and legal groups welcomed the Biden administration's announcement Friday, but said it took too long and unfairly targeted Black and brown immigrants.

“We welcome the CDC’s long overdue decision to terminate this order, and look forward to the permanent end to this Trump era policy, which the Biden administration has disturbingly used to harm well over a million people, especially people of color,” said Shaw Drake, a staff attorney and policy counsel for Border and Immigrants’ Rights at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

“All people have the right to seek protection in the United States from violence and danger, and everyone deserves for their claims to be heard. Expulsions under Title 42 were never based on public health — they were simply an excuse to deny those facing danger access to protection in this country.”

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, cheered the administration’s plan to end the policy. Though she acknowledged it was past due, she said ending the policy continues to show President Biden is trying to mend a broken system.

“I think it's really important to remember that President Biden inherited an immigration system that wasn't just broken, but an immigration system that I think that has been neglected by previous administrations and by Congress as well,” she said.

Escobar added that what gets lost in the immigration debate is that “irregular migration” trends have been occurring for more than 10 years.

“I think the media does not provide that historical context, and it makes it easy for Republicans and for folks who don't want to find a solution and simply want to criticize it makes it to say, ‘Oh, this is a President Biden problem,’” said Escobar.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.