EXCLUSIVE: Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., on Monday moved to force a vote on a bill that would keep a Trump-era public health order — which allows migrants to be rapidly expelled from the U.S. — in place until the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions are repealed.
Roy filed a discharge petition to force a vote in the House, where Democrats hold a slim majority, on Herrell’s PAUSE Act. That bill would keep Title 42 protections in place until all COVID-19 mandates and public health emergencies are ended and until the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lowers the traveler health risk for Canada and Mexico to Level 1.
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Title 42 is a CDC order put in place in March of last year under the Trump administration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It allows for the rapid expulsion, often within hours, of migrants encountered at the southern border. While in place for public health reasons, it proved one of the most significant and effective measures in keeping migrants out of the U.S and keeping migrant facilities empty. In May 2020, the number of migrants in custody was just 117.
While fiercely opposed by liberal activists and some Democrats, the Biden administration has not fully repealed it — but, crucially, it is not applying it to unaccompanied children (UACs). Critics have said it has fueled the historic surge in UACs at the border in recent months that has overwhelmed border agents and led to images of crowded border facilities.
While the Biden administration is applying Title 42 to migrant families, it is not applying it to others, in part because Mexico now refuses to take families with tender-age children — leading to the release of migrant families into the interior of the U.S.
While Biden has not yet moved to roll back Title 42 entirely, conservatives are concerned that the decision not to apply it to migrant families and UACs, as well as a legal challenge and pleas from left-wing activists, could mean that Title 42 could be further diminished or scrapped altogether. That, Republicans and other officials say, could open the floodgates to an even bigger crisis.
“Title 42 border health protections may be the only thing keeping Biden’s border crisis from becoming a full-blown catastrophe,” Herrell said in a statement. “Congress must act to ensure Border Patrol keeps their authority to quickly expel migrants who have or may have been exposed to COVID-19.”
“When the new administration came in, President Biden ended President Trump’s Title 42 enforcement for thousands of children and families, and he may still decide to end enforcement altogether, all to appease his anti-borders base,” Roy said. “Suspending Title 42 enforcement in part has already signaled to cartels and coyotes that the era of catch and release has returned, and encouraged them to expand their atrocious operations across our border and into our communities.
The PAUSE Act would attempt to end that uncertainty, at least until the pandemic is entirely over.
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Roy is using a “discharge petition” to attempt to force the vote on the bill, a move that requires the signatures of 218 House members, regardless of the size of the House. There are 212 Republicans in the House, meaning it would require a handful of Democrats to break ranks. But even if they do not, it could put Democrats in conservative districts in a tough spot by essentially forcing them to vote against codifying a crucial border security measure.
The gambit comes as Republicans have been increasing the pressure on Democrats in both Congress and the Biden administration over the escalating crisis at the southern border. Officials encountered more than 172,000 migrants at the southern border in March and that number is expected to rise in the coming months.
After months of denying the situation at the border is a “crisis,” Biden used that word on Saturday when defending his initial move to keep the refugee cap at Trump-era levels.
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But the White House on Monday attempted to clarify his language.
“The president does not feel that children coming to our border seeking refuge from violence, economic hardships and other dire circumstances is a crisis,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “He does feel that the crisis in Central America, the dire circumstances that many are fleeing from, that he that that is a situation we need to spend our time, our effort on, and we need to address it if we’re going to prevent more of an influx of migrants from coming in years to come.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.