Over the past two weeks, right-wing media has spread racist misinformation about the Biden administration’s plans to end Title 42 -- the Trump-era rule used to deport migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 1.6 million migrants have been expelled from the United States under Title 42 in the past two years, ostensibly to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. However, the rule has been described by public health experts as a “scientifically baseless and politically motivated” policy “which enables the mass expulsion of asylum seekers and is being used to circumvent laws and treaty protections designed to save lives.” In fact, Title 42 specifically exploits public health concerns to “circumvent US and international law protecting refugees by ordering immigration authorities to summarily expel migrants without providing them the opportunity to seek protection in the United States.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that the order will be lifted May 23, claiming “the cross-border spread of COVID-19 due to covered noncitizens does not present the serious danger to public health that it once did, given the range of mitigation measures now available.”
Right-wing media has fearmongered that ending Title 42 will create an unprecedented surge on the border, that migrants will bring over diseases, and that cartels will exploit the chaos to increase crime and smuggling. Mainstream media has echoed some of those right-wing talking points, often fixating on the idea of a “surge” of people entering the country after Title 42 ends.
- On March 30, NBC reporter Julia Ainsley cited “some sources” at the Department of Homeland Security who “say that maybe this is giving people too much lead time and might encourage them to leave their homes in Central and South America to see if they can now come by May 23.”
- CNN anchor Jake Tapper similarly parroted Border Patrol narratives while reporting on the repeal of Title 42, saying, “American officials are warning that without this rule, a new surge of migrants will be expected, attempting to cross into the U.S.”
- On March 30, CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota said that “according to Border Patrol, the worst case scenario” of ending Title 42 “could add an additional 18,000 people a day who show up at the border, and obviously that can glut the system,” asking Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), “So if the Biden administration does in fact end this Title 42, what is going to happen to the border?”
Some of this rhetoric is even being echoed by moderate Democrats opposed to ending the policy. Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly, Kyrsten Sinema, Maggie Hassan, Jon Tester, and Joe Manchin have now co-sponsored a GOP bill that would block the Biden administration from ending Title 42 – even though the order has already illegally expelled hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and failed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Myth: Revoking Title 42 will cause a massive surge and chaos at the border
Right-wing media figures have used the DHS estimate that it will apprehend up to 18,000 migrants a day after Title 42 is dropped to claim that illegal border crossings will “surge.”
- Fox correspondent Bill Melugin repeatedly pushed the narratives from Border Patrol sources that dropping Title 42 will lead to “a surge on a surge” and that “these mass releases [of detained migrants] will explode in size exponentially.”
- On April 4, Fox host Jeanine Pirro claimed that announcing the repeal of Title 42 gives migrants a “rush on into the United States.”
- Dennis Prager said on his radio show that repealing Title 42 is an “obvious example of a country committing suicide,” citing estimates of people seeking asylum that are “anticipating a doubling or tripling of numbers to as many as 18,000 a day.”
- Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed on April 6 that the number of people who “stream across the border” on a daily basis is “bigger than Salina, Kansas, was when I was a little boy, I believe. So it’s like one Salina coming in every day.”
- The Washington Free Beacon published an article that same day claiming that DHS “may lower the security clearance required to process migrants detained on the southern border” because of the “expected surge” that will come as a result of ending Title 42.
Fact: DHS claims of a record surge are “dubious,” while Title 42 has actually led to more repeat crossings at the border
While ending Title 42 will likely cause a temporary increase in immigration, it is unlikely to rise as high as DHS claims. High levels of violence in Mexico and Central America are driving more people to the southern border in 2022, with many seeking asylum. However, DHS has made the “dubious” claim that encounters will be as high as 18,000 per day, which would result in 540,000 encounters per month – more than double the current record of around 220,000 set in March 2000.
Additionally, Customs and Border Protection is encountering more migrants on a repeat basis who have continued to try to enter the country only to be quickly expelled under Title 42 and forced to try again. Without Title 42, such repeat crossings are expected to decline as people who enter the country are actually able to apply for asylum rather than be immediately expelled.
Myth: Without Title 42, asylum-seekers will carry COVID-19 into the United States
One of the most toxic narratives from right-wing media is the idea that Title 42 will somehow prevent the spread of COVID-19, a narrative based on the lie that migrants will be more likely to spread COVID-19 infections in the United States than citizens.
- Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earnhardt questioned why Title 42 is ending if COVID-19 cases are “going up, and we are letting illegals in.”
- Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner defended Title 42 on April 6’s The Faulkner Focus, asking Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) “why in the world” we should end “something that protects us from COVID at the border.”
- Fox contributor Marc Thiessen claimed on April 11 that the Democrats are setting a double standard by dropping Title 42 while some masking policies remain in place “on planes,” saying “apparently we're still in a COVID emergency except on the border.”
- Fox anchor Bill Hemmer also drew false parallels between masking policies and the Trump-era immigration policy in an interview with former Trump CDC Director Robert Redfield, saying, “Title 42 is going to be removed from the border in about six weeks. Why would that happen when you still have to wear a mask on a plane?”
- On April 5, OAN’s Dan Ball said Title 42 was implemented to defend Americans from COVID-19: “Trump put that policy in place back in 2020, allowing border agents to deport immigrants who were crossing who posed a serious health risk to our nation. That’s what [Title] 42 did – until now.”
Fact: Title 42 is “scientifically baseless” and echoes bigoted narratives that migrants spread disease
Epidemiologists and other public health experts have publicly spoken out in support of rescinding Title 42 on the basis that it does not protect Americans from COVID-19. According to former CDC epidemiologist Dr. Ron Waldman: “The Title 42 order is not and has never been about public health. Rather it represents a cynical manipulation of public health arguments to advance political policies of immigration control.”
Outcry against Title 42 from public health experts dates back to when former President Donald Trump’s administration first implemented the policy. Experts then advocated instead for “evidence-based public health measures,” such as giving asylum-seekers masks and ample room to social distance, as opposed to outright expelling them from the country, calling the order “scientifically baseless.”
There’s no evidence that migrants are significant carriers of COVID-19 any more so than people already living in the United States. Claims implying migrants are somehow more significant disease carriers echo longstanding racist and false narratives used to oppose immigration.
Myth: Revoking Title 42 will lead to a spike in drug smuggling and other crime
Right wing media has jumped on the idea that rescinding Title 42 will somehow open the floodgates to more criminal activity crossing the border.
- While talking about the end of Title 42 on April 9, the panelists of Fox News’ The Big Saturday Show all agreed that President Joe Biden would change his policies if his son Hunter died of a fentanyl overdose caused by “the drugs coming across our border into our country.”
- On April 8, Arizona Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich appeared on Fox and claimed that ending Title 42 would be “empowering the cartels” smuggling people and drugs.
- Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz complained that ending Title 42 will be “opening the door” and “enabling the drug cartels” and other illegal activity by people who are “swarming the border,” saying it will “absolutely change the trajectory and the face of America in all the wrong way.”
- Fox anchor Harris Faulkner ended a segment with correspondent Bill Melugin discussing the end of Title 42 by reporting that there are “sex predators mixing in” with migrants coming over the border.
Fact: Title 42 is actually causing more crime and chaos at the border
While the right fearmongers about Title 42 increasing criminal activity across the border, ending it might actually do the opposite as human smugglers are actually benefiting significantly from Title 42. Migrants are finding it safer to pay to cross the border illegally and risk expulsion to Mexico under Title 42 than attempting to apply for asylum and risk deportation to their home countries. As nonprofit advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) notes:
U.S. law states that asylum seekers should be able to express fear of returning to their countries at ports of entry—the official border crossings. But Title 42 closed the land ports of entry to asylum seekers for more than two years. This forced the most desperate to cross “irregularly,” climbing the border wall or fording the Rio Grande, braving desert heat, and preyed upon by organized crime. Others have ended up in wretched encampments, in Reynosa and until recently in Tijuana, waiting for a policy change to allow them to approach the border crossings.
Additionally, kidnappers reportedly wait for CBP to drop off migrants after deporting them under Title 42. Advocacy group Human Rights First has tracked “at least 9,886 kidnappings, torture, rape, and other violent attacks on people blocked in or expelled to Mexico due to the Title 42 policy.”
There is also virtually no evidence that migrant families facilitate the drug trade. Increases or decreases in families crossing the border have no impact on the amounts of drugs seized. The right-wing media figures fearmongering that the end of Title 42 will be a boon for the cartels are ignoring that drug smuggling into the United States is almost entirely conducted through official ports of entry, not by asylum-seekers trying to enter the country through other means.