Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the deportation of migrants arriving at the U.S. border in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. I appreciate hearing from you about this issue.
On March 20, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an order authorizing the Surgeon General to bar undocumented immigrants arriving at the border from entering the United States, stating that their entry into the country could facilitate the spread of COVID-19. In accordance with this order and pursuant to the public health and welfare authority under Title 42 of the United States Code, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been returning migrants to their country of last transit since March 2020. If the country of last transit lacks the capacity to provide adequate services, migrants are returned to their country of origin. Under the Biden Administration, unaccompanied minors or individuals with acute vulnerabilities have not been subject to this temporary protocol.
Since the novel coronavirus first emerged in late 2019, cases of COVID-19 have spread both globally and throughout the United States. As of early 2022, there have been more than 950,000 deaths attributable to COVID-19 in the United States alone-more than three times the population of Pittsburgh. While the toll of COVID-19 has been extraordinary, increasingly we have the tools to stem the spread of the virus, slow the emergence of new variants and return our Nation to normal. Fortunately, there are now multiple safe and effective vaccines available in the United States available to people ages 5 and older-a credit to our Nation’s scientists and engineers, as well as the strong public and private investments in our biomedical research infrastructure over time.
With effective vaccines and therapeutics widely available and over 97 percent of the American population living in a county defined as having a “low” COVID-19 Community Level, on April 1, 2022, the CDC issued a Public Health Determination terminating the temporary public health order under Title 42. The termination will take effect on May 23, 2022, enabling the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to scale up the migrant vaccination program and prepare for the resumption of regular migration as outlined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), including by bolstering border security and increasing agency capacity to swiftly process asylum claims.
While all migrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody have been offered vaccination against COVID-19 since vaccines became available, the Biden Administration has recently expanded the vaccination program. All migrants lacking valid proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and eligible for vaccination, are now required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Under the program, individuals who refuse will be placed in ICE detention and removal proceedings.
Further, on March 29, 2022, DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) published an interim final rule to help streamline the asylum process. Specifically, the rule would authorize asylum officers within United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to assess asylum applications of individuals who passed the credible fear screening. Currently, this step takes several years as cases are exclusively reviewed by immigration judges within the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which has extensive case backlogs. Under this new process, migrants who demonstrate credible fear would receive a timely interview with an asylum officer to discuss their claim, after which the officer would make a final determination. Individuals denied asylum would be referred to removal proceedings before an immigration judge, offering an opportunity for appeal. This expedited process would not apply to unaccompanied minors. Ultimately, this rule seeks to ensure that asylum seekers with a credible fear of persecution receive asylum and those who do not meet the bar are expediently removed, all while reducing the enormous case backlog that places migrants in limbo for years.
The current situation at our southwest border is a difficult one, but I have faith that the United States can chart a path that honors both security and the humanity of the individuals arriving at our border. Comprehensive immigration reform can not only secure our borders and provide for a tough, but fair pathway to earned citizenship for hardworking immigrants, it can do so in a way that creates jobs, fosters innovation and increases tax revenue. It is possible for the United States, a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws, to foster an immigration system that treats all individuals with compassion and dignity, while also securing our border and protecting our national security. The American economy-our families, businesses and workers-depend upon it.
As always, I appreciate your views on this and other issues as they help me understand better what is important to the people of Pennsylvania. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future about this or any other matter of importance to you.
For more information on this or other issues, I encourage you to visit my website, . I hope you will find this online office a comprehensive resource to stay up-to-date on my work in Washington, request assistance from my office, or share with me your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you and to Pennsylvania.
United States Senator