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What is Title 42, why are the bishops against it, and what will happen tomorrow?

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Title 42, the public health law that for the last three years has limited immigration into the United States, is set to expire on Thursday, May 11.

In March 2020, the Trump administration invoked Title 42 of a 1944 public health law to curb the inflow of migrants into the U.S. during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under Title 42, border authorities were authorized to expel large numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border. At the time, the administration reasoned this was a necessary precaution to slow COVID’s spread.

Despite Title 42’s restrictions, the southern border saw a record surge in illegal immigration after the Biden administration cut border enforcement resources. Amid this surge, the Supreme Court ruled to keep Title 42 in effect well past the original expiration date set by Biden.

Amid an unprecedented surge in illegal border crossings, in which 2.76 million undocumented migrants crossed in fiscal year 2022, border states such as Texas and Arizona sued the Biden administration to extend Title 42. Attorneys general in these states argued that their systems for caring for and processing migrants were being overwhelmed and the surge was endangering the well-being of border communities.

Just this Monday, U.S. Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz stated that over the weekend border authorities had apprehended more than 26,000 illegal migrants and hundreds of pounds of drugs.

In cities like El Paso, videos have shown hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants crossing into the U.S.

As recently as May 1, a video showed Sacred Heart Parish in downtown El Paso surrounded by hundreds of migrants camping outside the church.

As record numbers of migrants have continued to surge at the border through the first half of the year, many lawmakers — and even Biden himself — have warned that the coming days will be “chaotic.”

Why have the U.S. bishops opposed Title 42?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops led by current Migration Committee chairman Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso has taken a hard-line stance against virtually all immigration restrictions.

The bishops have not been afraid to criticize either side of the political aisle and have denounced both Republican and Democrat efforts to curb the number of migrants crossing the border.

Seitz has repeatedly condemned Title 42. The El Paso bishop clarified his position in a January interview with Commonweal Magazine in which he said: “As a priest, I need to be clear: Title 42 and policies like it are merciless and are literally killing people by driving them to cross the desert and to drown in the river. Children are dying. Death can’t be an acceptable part of the overhead of our immigration policy.”

What will happen tomorrow?

Title 42 restrictions will expire at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.

Officials, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, predict a significant and immediate surge in migrants attempting to cross the border.

“We know smugglers will seek to take advantage of the end of Title 42 and that the first few weeks will be challenging, but I have full confidence in the dedicated men and women of DHS,” Mayorkas said in a Wednesday press conference.

Biden announced last week that he was sending 1,500 troops to assist in administrative tasks at the border. The administration further said it would be expanding facilities to process and house migrants along the border.

Back in February, the Biden administration announced its most restrictive border policy yet. The policy change, which some are calling a “transit ban,” will take effect the same day Title 42 ends and will automatically deny asylum to migrants who attempt to cross the border illegally or who cross other countries illegally to get to the U.S.

Texas governor Greg Abbott announced on Monday that he would be deploying hundreds of specially trained Army National Guardsmen to help enforce border security. With approximately 1,254 miles of borderline, Texas comprises more than 64% of the total U.S. border with Mexico.

Texas cities such as El Paso have been among the border communities most heavily impacted by the migrant surge. In December, the El Paso sector of the border alone recorded an average of 2,300 illegal migrant crossings every day.

Since March 2021, Abbott has deployed over 10,000 National Guard soldiers to the border under what he has dubbed “Operation Lone Star.”

“With the ending of Title 42 on Thursday, President Biden is laying down the welcome mat to people across the entire world, but Texas is deploying our new Texas Tactical Border Force,” said Abbott in a Monday press conference. “The Texas Tactical Border Force will bolster our Operation Lone Star efforts to secure the Texas border amid the chaos caused by President Biden’s elimination of Title 42.”

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What is Title 42, why are the bishops against it, and what will happen tomorrow?