Title 42 Lift Won't Impact 'New Normal' Border Crossings: Experts

President Joe Biden's administration announced on April 1 that the controversial Title 42 border policy will end on May 23, prompting an outcry from critics. However, despite what those critics say about a coming migrant "surge" at the borders, some experts believe rescinding Title 42 will have little effect in regards to the number of migrants crossing the border into the United States.

"The numbers have not gone down [with Title 42 in place]," Dr. Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute at Rice University, told Newsweek. "The numbers are high anyway. So what's the surge at this point? That's just the new normal."

Title 42 is a public health code that allows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to stop people from entering the United States from foreign countries where there "is the existence of any communicable disease" that could be spread in the U.S. The code was enacted during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 by former President Donald Trump's administration, and critics have claimed it has been used as an anti-migration measure because it allows migrants to be turned away without the ability to apply for asylum.

Proponents of Title 42, who have argued that dropping the policy will result in a dramatic increase in border crossings, include a group of GOP Senators who last week said they will stall a $10 billion COVID aid package until there's a vote to reinstate the policy.

"Most people think there will be at least some increase [of migrants crossing over U.S. borders]. The size of the increase is hotly debated, and nobody really knows," Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, told Newsweek. "At the same time, we are also in the standard time of year when border apprehensions go up. There is always a spring seasonal effect, and it is likely that we are going to see yet another increase that is due, at least in some part, to spring."

 U.S.-Mexico border
The Biden Administration recently announced the end of the Title 42 border policy, causing critics to claim it will cause a surge in migrants crossing into the U.S. However, some experts believe the already-high number of crossings likely won't see a tremendous spike. In this photo, people are seeking walking along a fence after crossing the border from Mexico at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Paso del Norte Port of Entry along the U.S.-Mexico border between Texas and Chihuahua state on December 9, 2021, in El Paso, Texas. Getty

"It's a tough balance, because by ending Title 42 as an immigration enforcement tool, you're also perhaps sending a message that the border is now open. So, some critics argue that will result in a surge; that immigrants will take the message the wrong way and that the border is now open," Payan said.

However, Payan added, "Mexico has been enforcing the southern border quite fiercely, so a lot of the huge caravans are no longer there."

More than anything, it was becoming harder for the U.S. to argue the health aspect of Title 42 as an excuse for keeping it in place, Payan and Reichlin-Melnick both noted.

"It has been clear for a while that the public health rationale for keeping Title 42 in place was weak. And as time went on, it became harder and harder to argue that it was necessary, as the United States lifts nearly all COVID restrictions inside the country," Reichlin-Melnick said. "I think the CDC felt that under no argument did it still make sense to keep Title 42 in place from a public health standpoint."

Reichlin-Melnick added that even during the height of the pandemic, Title 42 did not cause a noticeable drawing down of border crossings.

"At the U.S.-Mexico border, there wasn't a single month when there were fewer than 6 million entries across the border, even in April of 2020—the month when everyone locked down," he said.

Last week, Reichlin-Melnick testified in front of Congress about Title 42. He shared a clip of his testimony on Twitter.

Among the most outspoken politicians against the ending of Title 42 has been Texas Governor Greg Abbott. After Biden's announcement about the policy being lifted, the Republican leader said during a press conference that he would have state troopers collect migrants at the border and bus them to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

"It's frustrating, because if the state of Texas was willing to work with the Biden administration, rather than at cross purposes to them, it's likely that they could significantly reduce the amount of chaos occurring at the border by helping with the processing side of things," Reichlin-Melnick said.

"I think that the broader point is that Title 42 just hasn't worked. It's not an immigration program, but if you were to evaluate it from the standpoint of an immigration deterrence program, it's a failure," Reichlin-Melnick said. "And I think the earlier we admit this and rip off the bandage, the better. Because the longer that this [Title 42] is in place, the harder it will become politically and operationally to lift it, and, ironically, the more chaos there will be at the border. It's a failed policy that occasionally gets the perception to people that it's working."