Infectious diseases could flow across U.S. borders unchecked if a current national health order expires.
A Trump administration pandemic-era order by the U.S. Surgeon General under Title 42 of federal law has allowed the expulsion of migrants at the border to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Biden administration announced it was ending the order, and the attorneys general of Arizona, Louisiana, and Missouri brought a lawsuit joined by 21 other states. U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays issued a nationwide injunction against lifting the health order while the issue is adjudicated. The Biden administration is appealing the judge’s May 2022 ruling.
The National Emergency declaration is currently scheduled to end on October 13, which would end the enforcement of the Trump-era Title 42 order. President Joe Biden could extend the emergency declaration.
‘Ongoing Health Threats’
There are plenty of reasons to keep the Title 42 order in effect, says Ira Mehlman, the media director at Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
“COVID is still very much with us and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. There are also other health risks like monkeypox and a resurgence of polio. Most importantly, there is another national health crisis cited by CDC: The opioid crisis. Deadly narcotics, most notably fentanyl, are responsible for more than 100,000 U.S. deaths last year. Much of the supply of these lethal drugs is moved across the southern border by the same criminal cartels that smuggle and traffic human beings,” said Mehlman.
“The cartels are taking advantage of the fact that some 90 percent of the Border Patrol’s manpower is now devoted to processing the flood of migrants entering the country. In many cases, the cartels use the migrants as decoys to divert the attention of CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol), while a few miles away they move drugs across the border. Even if COVID were to magically disappear tomorrow, Title 42 would still be absolutely justified to combat the opioid epidemic that CDC has declared a public health emergency.
Tuberculosis ‘Worst Problem’
All border-crossers should be tested for communicable diseases, says Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
“Allowing thousands of illegals to pour unscreened into the country is very dangerous with or without COVID-19,” said Orient. “Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) is likely the worst problem. You can catch it on the bus. It may remain latent for years. With COVID-19, you are only contagious for a week or so. TB is a lifelong threat.”
In addition, people from far-flung countries can harbor exotic diseases, and many people are doubly victimized in transit, says Orient.
“Undocumented immigrants also present many parasitic diseases with which American doctors are unfamiliar, such as Chagas, with devastating, untreatable long-term consequences,” said Orient. “Many have lice or scabies. Sexually transmitted infections are also very likely, given the high incidence of rape.”
‘It Is Nonsensical’
U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) proposed an amendment to the Inflation Reduction Act to keep Title 42 in place for 120 days after the broader COVID-19 public health emergency expires. His amendment failed in a tied vote of the U.S. Senate on August 7.
An amendment by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) requiring the Biden administration to put a comprehensive plan in place to control the border before lifting Title 42 received 56 votes, including all Republicans and six Democrats running for reelection, falling short of the 60 votes required under budget reconciliation rules.
President Biden has extended the national health emergency order several times, showing the need for continuation of the Title 42 order, said Lankford in a statement.
“The Biden Administration continues to declare that we are in a public health emergency because of COVID-19,” said Lankford. “This public health emergency first declared in January 2020 has been renewed ten times. Title 42 is the health authority specifically designed to prevent people from coming into the country during a pandemic. It is nonsensical to say that we have a COVID health emergency everywhere but on our southern border.”
The Title 42 health order will remain in place until there is a final court order. Biden has the authority to extend the national emergency order, currently due to expire on October 13.
Kevin Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Arlington, Texas.
(This article was updated on September 13, 2022)