Vice President Kamala Harris once joined fellow Democrats in blasting the Trump administration for using COVID-19 as an excuse to close the United States border with Mexico, but Harris, now in charge of immigration at the border, reportedly backs the Biden administration’s decision to keep that rule in effect.
Politico reports that Harris is now under increasing scrutiny from immigration advocacy organizations for “sealing” the border, effectively ending immigration across the United States’ southern border because of the pandemic threat, even as COVID-19 remains on the decline.
“Months before the election, then-Senator Kamala Harris signed on to a letter with fellow Democrats accusing the Trump administration of violating federal law when it took the drastic step of citing the pandemic to close down the Mexican border,” Politico noted Wednesday. “Now, after being sworn in as vice president, Harris backs the Biden administration’s decision to keep the border closed under that very same provision, according to two people familiar with her thinking.”
The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it plans on keeping the border closures in place at least until May 21, 2021, and will likely extend the closure even further into the summer if COVID-19 numbers in Mexico and Canada remain higher than those in the United States.
“The restrictions, which have been in effect since March 21, 2020, specifically prohibit all ‘non-essential’ travel at these land ports of entry to prevent the spread of COVID-19. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) defines ‘non-essential’ travel as travel for ‘tourism purposes (e.g., sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events),” according to National Law Review. “’Essential’ travel includes, among other categories, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States, individuals traveling for medical purposes, and individuals traveling to work in the United States.”
The measure also blocks non-citizens from entering the United States “when doing so is required in the interest of public health.” More controversially, the provision allows the United States government to turn away or “expel” individuals who present themselves at the border seeking asylum without assessing their case under the excuse that such asylum seekers may carry COVID-19.
Immigrant activists — and, notably, Harris herself — blasted the “Title 42” policy under Trump, and claimed, per Vox, “that it prevents migrants from exercising their right under US and international law to seek asylum.”
The letter Harris signed was particularly pointed, accusing the Trump administration, at the time, of enacting a “startling expansion of executive powers” designed to limit those seeking “humanitarian protection” from seeking asylum, and suggesting that the Trump administration was causing a public health crisis by arbitrarily enforcing its interpretation of an outdated statute.
Harris’ former colleagues in the Democratic caucus have called on the Biden administration to take immediate action on the issue, according to Politico.
‘More than 60 House Democrats are urging President Joe Biden to end the policy, saying it has no legal basis. Dozens of public health experts say it has ‘no scientific basis as a public health measure.’ Immigration advocates have filed legal challenges as well,” the outlet said.
A Biden administration official gave no further details on how Harris feels about Title 42 now and suggested that the Department of Health and Human Services is handling the administrative paperwork.
“The administration’s position is her position,” the official said. “Just given where we are with the pandemic, the administration — her, the president, administration-wide — are supportive of Title 42 being in place until HHS cancels the order.”