Senate proposal would let U.S. expel migrants after Title 42 ends

A group of senators is preparing to unveil a bill that would allow U.S. border agents to continue expelling migrants without court hearings even after a public health order that has authorized these expulsions during the coronavirus pandemic expires next week, congressional officials told CBS News Thursday.

The proposal would effectively allow the U.S. government to continue the soon-to-be terminated Title 42 border expulsion policy for two years without a public health justification. Title 42 is set to end on May 11, when the national public health emergency over COVID-19 lapses.

In a statement, Republican North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said he was planning to introduce the proposal with independent Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema due to a lack of confidence in the Biden administration’s plan to handle the expected rise in migration to the southern border when Title 42 lifts.

“It’s clear that Congress must immediately step in, and the bipartisan bill I’m introducing with Senator Sinema will help prevent the catastrophic fallout at the border we will soon see if no action is taken,” Tillis said.

An early draft of the proposal obtained by CBS News would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to swiftly expel migrants to Mexico “without further hearing or review.” Those processed for expulsion would need to be detained until they are expelled, for a period of no longer than 30 days.

Hannah Hurley, a spokesperson for Sinema, noted on Thursday that the bill was “still being written,” saying the text obtained by CBS News was dated. Still, a congressional source said the draft text was expected to be the foundation of the Sinema-Tillis proposal.

The draft states that if Mexico does not accept the return of migrants or DHS determines expulsions there are not in the national interest, the U.S. would have the authority to expel migrants to their home countries, where they have a residence or a third country willing to receive them. The proposal would also require the State Department to impose visa bans for citizens of countries whose governments reject U.S. expulsions.

Under the draft proposal, U.S. officials would be prohibited from expelling migrants to countries where they could face torture or persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political views or membership in a socal group — the grounds for asylum. This bar would not apply to migrants convicted of certain crimes or those deemed to be a national security risk.

Those who claim they could face torture or persecution would need to pass preliminary interviews with U.S. asylum officers to avoid expulsion.

It’s unclear if the bill expected to be released by Sinema and Tillis would garner sufficient support in the Senate and, most importantly, backing from Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Last year, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first announced it would discontinue Title 42, Sinema, then a Democrat, joined 4 Democrats and six Republicans in introducing a bill to extend the policy.

First instituted by the Trump administration in March 2020 as an emergency measure to fight the spread of the coronavirus, Title 42 has given U.S. border authorities the authority to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants without processing their asylum claims.

The policy’s scheduled termination next week has alarmed Republicans, centrist Democrats and border city officials, all of whom have voiced concerns about whether the Biden administration is prepared to manage an expected spike in migrant crossings.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is preparing for as many as 10,000 migrants to cross the southern border each day after Title 42 lapses, which would almost double the daily average in March. Other internal government projections suggest that daily migrant arrivals could rise to between 11,000 and 13,000.

The Biden administration has for its part maintained it is prepared to phase out Title 42, saying it hopes to deter illegal crossings through a strategy that pairs deterrence measures, including increased deportations and a restriction on asylum, with expanded opportunities for migrants to enter the U.S. legally.

Jack Turman contributed reporting.

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