Will we measure success by how many we reject or how many we protect?

Today, at 11:59 pm, the Title 42 policy put in place by the Trump Administration and engineered for the indiscriminate expulsion of children, families and individuals seeking safety, will finally end.

For more than three years, First Focus on Children has advocated for this day. We joined other child advocates in a letter urging the Biden Administration to end this abuse of federal law that inflicted harm on children. We sadly marked its anniversary. We applauded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when they terminated the order that put the policy in place, though that was over a year ago now. It is well past time to end Title 42.

This cannot be a day of rejoicing, but a day to mourn that for over three years, children, families, and individuals were denied our nation’s promise to allow those fleeing persecution and violence to “breathe free.” While unaccompanied children were eventually exempt from the policy, Title 42 has been used 2.8 million times to turn away individuals and children in families. According to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) received through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Cato Institute, between March 2020 and May 31 2022, the U.S. government expelled 125,000 children under Title 42 — including over 30,000 children and infants — and almost a third of those expulsions occurred after midnight. The policy has repeatedly put children and families in danger, with more than 13,000 reports of violent attacks recorded during President Biden’s term alone. Under Title 42, thousands of children have been separated from family. In fact, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recommended in January 2022 that the U.S. immediately end Title 42 because the policy “compels” family separation. Title 42 fueled chaos at the border by enabling repeated crossings and further exploitation by criminal organizations. In June 2022, 50 people tragically lost their lives in San Antonio because Title 42 was a failed policy that denied people a safe way to seek entry to the United States. In short, Title 42 was deadly.  

Unfortunately, the end of Title 42 does not immediately restore a full and fair asylum system. In the very first week of this year, the Biden Administration announced “new border enforcement actions” that favor failed, deterrence-based policies over orderly and humane restoration of a protection that our laws have provided for decades. While this announcement included limited additional pathways for those seeking safety to come to the United States, it did so at the expense of a full and fair process for children and families to make their claims for protection by expanding expedited processing at the border and requiring arriving children and families to make an appointment on a mobile app to approach the border. The Biden Administration followed up this announcement with a proposed asylum ban that will punish children, which First Focus on Children vehemently opposed. That rule has been finalized. The Administration also plans to expand expedited processing at the border, which will deny children in families a fair chance to make claims for protection. While the Biden Administration has also announced expansions to refugee resettlement and parole programs to allow family reunification and safe pathways to the United States, those cannot replace the legal right to seek asylum at our border. Instead of taking the opportunity to build a legacy of restoring welcome for children and families fleeing danger, the Administration is relying on failed policies that ensure harm.

Some members of Congress are also working to pass dangerous policies in response to Title 42’s end. House committees have considered border bills that would enshrine harm to children as the law of the land. Even today as Title 42 ends, the House is expected to vote on a bill that would embrace bans, bars, and jails for children and families seeking safety.

We cannot forget that each child and family arriving has a face, a name, a story. Many of the children and families coming to the United States have experienced persecution, torture, trafficking, and abuse in their home countries or on the journey to find safety. For them, coming to the U.S. border is a lifeline. The cost of denying them the opportunity to seek safety is too great — both for them and for the soul of our nation. Our country has a long and proud tradition of welcoming children, families, and individuals who need protection from persecution, violence, and torture. Communities around the country have already welcomed children and families seeking protection, and they will continue to welcome them. Three-fourths of Americans — regardless of political affiliation — agree that our country should provide asylum to people fleeing persecution and violence. Policymakers must follow their lead and hold to our values of welcome and a fair opportunity to build a new and safe life. 

When policies focus on children, which the American people believe all federal policies must do, common-sense, workable solutions emerge to give all people a meaningful process to seek protection. Policies must:

  • Welcome and process children, families, and individuals seeking asylum in a manner that keeps families together, provides humanitarian assistance, and connects them with government-supported organizations providing shelter, reception, and support to reach final destinations
  • Allow children and their families to pursue their immigration cases in the community with access to community-based services that help them understand the immigration system and recover from their trauma
  • Grant children and families a fair opportunity to make their claim for protection within a meaningful timeframe, and with legal and social services to develop their immigration case.

We are now at the “after Title 42” stage of our history. The question remains: Does our nation now become a country that measures success based on the number of people we reject, or the number of people we protect?