by Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
WASHINGTON — Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto is among a small group of Senate Democrats opposing the Biden administration’s decision to end a Trump-era policy that essentially closed America’s asylum system.
The battle centers on a rule known as Title 42, which allows U.S. border officials to quickly turn away asylum-seekers at the border by citing the pandemic.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—which issued Title 42 in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus outbreak— announced they would lift restrictions on May 23, 2022, saying that it is no longer needed because of improving pandemic conditions.
A majority of Democrats have pushed the Biden administration to rescind Title 42 after he pledged to reverse the Trump-era policy, but Cortez Masto and a handful of other moderate Democrats say reversing the rule would result in “a surge at the border.”
“This is the wrong way to do this and it will leave the administration unprepared for a surge at the border,” said Cortez Masto in a statement to the Current Wednesday. “We should be working to fix our immigration system by investing in border security and treating immigrant families with dignity. Instead, the administration is acting without a detailed plan.”
Title 42 has allowed immigration officials to bypass laws that require the government to interview asylum-seekers for eligibility before being deported, an action immigration advocates and many congressional Democrats argue is inhumane.
Critics of Biden’s decision to repeal Title 42 say a sudden influx of migrants would strain detention facilities and pose national security risks without a detailed plan laid out.
The Department of Homeland Security addressed those concerns by pledging to increase personnel and resources as needed, including new migrant processing facilities along the border to handle the expected increase in migration.
But Republicans and conservative Democrats have jumped on the internal dispute to push legislation that would block the repeal of the Title 42 border policy, as reported by Axios on Wednesday.
The legislation will reportedly be part of a larger amendment attached to the Senate’s $10 billion COVID-19 funding bill, and would require the Biden administration to present a plan to deal with a potential migrant influx.
Cortez Masto, who is up for reelection this year and will likely face a strong Republican challenger, is not a co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill to block the Title 42 repeal. The Nevada senator did not respond to questions by the Current asking if she supported efforts to block the repeal through legislation or whether she would consider signing onto the bill.
Republican campaigns have accused Cortez Masto of “hypocrisy” for denouncing the repeal of Title 42 after signing onto a letter in 2020 which called for an “immediate rescission” of the rule and referred to the policy as a “CDC asylum ban.”
“She is trying to save her poll numbers by flip-flopping on Title 42,” said Katharine Cooksey, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in an email blast.
Immigration advocates in Nevada argue that “Senate Republicans and moderate Senate Democrats want to make Title 42 permanent” and called on Cortez Masto to stand firm and repeal Title 42.
“We urge our U.S. senators, Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto, to stand firm in the face of systemic racism and against the proposed amendments that would preserve Title 42. Our community needs our elected officials to let the Title 42 policy finally die,” said Laura Martin, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, in a statement.
Immigration advocates in Nevada argue that the best solution to border safety concerns is comprehensive immigration reform to repair and rebuild the U.S. immigration system in a fair and humane manner.
“The misapplication of Title 42 is based on immigration concerns, not public health concerns. Using public health concerns as an excuse to ignore our country’s moral and legal obligation to help those seeking refuge and protection is neither good politics nor good policy for any elected official,” said Rico Ocampo, an immigrant justice organizer for Make The Road Nevada.
Immigration attorneys in Nevada say that ending the rule would simply reaffirm the right to seek asylum in the U.S. that existed prior to the pandemic.
Asylum seekers “are only asking the U.S. for the opportunity to apply for asylum—again, an international right—and a chance to prove their cases in the immigration courts,” said Alissa Cooley, a managing attorney for the UNLV Immigration Clinic. “Being let in at the border does not mean asylum seekers have the right to stay. It only means they have the right to try.”
Cooley said she would not choose to use words like “surge” or “invasion” or “border crisis” when discussing immigration “as that is inflammatory language used to incite fear and xenophobia.”
While Cooley expects there will likely be an increase in migrants at the border after Title 42 is revoked due to pent up demand she said it will be temporary, and is unlikely to lead to a big growth in new citizens.
“As an immigration attorney in Las Vegas, winning asylum is not as easy as the majority of people think. In Las Vegas, the denial rate is 72%,” Cooley said.
Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.