Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Thursday warned against using “the cover of health” to deal with the crisis at the southern border as he defended the Biden administration’s move to lift Title 42 in May.
Becerra was asked about the decision to lift Title 42 — a public health order that has been used since March to expel a majority of migrants at the border — at a virtual event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.
The move by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has sparked concerns from both Democrats and Republicans that it will lead to even bigger numbers at the southern border, and will overwhelm already overworked border officials.
Becerra emphasized that the order is a public health order that was implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than a migration tool.
“Title 42 has been in place since the pandemic started because we want to make sure that we’re not spreading COVID any more than necessary, but now the situation is changing, as you know Americans are surviving, some folks are not using masks anymore, Title 42 therefore at this stage under the CDC’s interpretation of the facts and the science is saying we no longer need Title 42 to protect the public based on health conditions,” he said.
He then acknowledged that there is a “situation at the border” and that people are warning it is going to cause a problem.
“That could be, but you don’t use a health law to deal with a migration challenge, you use migration laws to deal with migration challenges,” he said.
“You can’t use the cover of health to deal with migration challenges,” he added.
He then emphasized that it is up to Congress to change immigration law, noting early efforts by the Biden administration to push a sweeping immigration reform bill that included a mass amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants — but stalled amid a lack of Republican support.
“It behooves Congress to work with this administration, which presented on its first day in office…an immigration reform law,” he said.
His comments did not seem to indicate that there was any coming shift on the issue coming from the Biden administration, despite reports that the White House is considering extending the order past the May 23 deadline.
“It is important that we deal with migration challenges at the border with our laws that deal with migration rather than trying to bootstrap a health law to do migration work,” he said.