John Moore | Credit: Getty Images

Since taking office the Biden administration has made many changes to immigration policies that are good for kids. The administration has ended the Trump administration’s so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” or the Remain in Mexico policy and has begun to allow some people in the program into the country. The administration has ended the information-sharing agreement between the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services (HHS), the agency responsible for children’s care until they are reunited with family. It has ordered a review of asylum policies. It has re-started the Central American Minors program, which provides a way for children to apply from their home country for reunification with family in the United States. However, there is one Trump-era policy the administration has not ended in its entirety: The misuse of the Title 42 public health authority to expel children in families and adults at the border. This is why First Focus on Children and 30 other child advocacy organizations wrote a letter to the Administration calling for the policy’s end.

Since March 2020, the Department of Homeland Security has used Title 42 to immediately turn back asylum seekers at the border under the pretense of halting the spread of COVID-19, with more than 70,000 expelled in February alone. In the past year, public health experts have pointed out the specious COVID-19 pretext of the policy. While we are glad that unaccompanied children are now exempt from Title 42 expulsions, the fact remains that thousands of children with their families are still being turned away from the border in violation of their legal right to seek humanitarian protection.

The Title 42 policy puts children in harm’s way by returning them to danger in Mexico or in their home countries. It retraumatizes children who have already seen persecution and violence in their community and on their journey to the United States. It has led to the separation of families, as parents desperate to keep their children safe have made the wrenching choice to send them to the border alone. And importantly, the Title 42 policy goes against the administration’s commitment to racial equity. Since February, a disproportionate number of Haitian families, many with young children, have been expelled under the Title 42 policy, despite the fact that Haiti is reeling from the pandemic and a political uprising that puts children and families at more risk of danger. A report by the Haitian Bridge Alliance, the UndocuBlack Network, and the Quixote Center document the clear harm to which the administration has returned Haitian asylum-seeking children and families under the Title 42 policy. 

These traumatic impacts make clear that the Title 42 policy is not in the best interest of children and therefore must end. By following clear recommendations put forward by public health experts, the administration can resume the safe processing of asylum seekers at the border in a manner that is equitable, in line with public health guidelines, and in the best interest of children. Our country can, and must, protect asylum-seeking children and families and public health and the same time.