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Biden administration ends Trump refugee ban

Local activists say immigration system is in need of more thorough reform

Avery Bleichfeld

Following the Biden administration’s announcement of plans to end the use of Title 42, a public health measure used to turn away refugees seeking to enter the U.S., leaders of Boston’s Haitian community voiced their support of the termination of use of the measure, saying its implementation was discriminatory against Black and brown migrants at the southern border.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which controls the implementation of Title 42, announced Friday that implementation would cease as of May 23. In a media statement, the CDC said public health conditions and the availability of tools to fight COVID-19, such as vaccines and therapeutics, has led the agency to determine use of the measure to fight COVID-19 is no longer necessary.

Title 42 was first added to the United States Code in 1944 and allows public health officials to suspend the entry of people or imports into the United States to prevent the spread of diseases. The measure was first used during the COVID-19 pandemic by the Trump administration in March 2020. Its use was continued by the Biden administration.

Geralde Gabeau, founder and executive director of the Immigrant Family and Services Institute, said she was glad to hear the Biden administration plans to stop using Title 42 and called the move long overdue.

“It is a huge relief for us to know that they will stop using Title 42 against migrants who are fleeing persecution in their own country, and are trying to come and to be welcomed,” Gabeau said.

Gabeau was involved in leading a rally in September to speak out against the use of Title 42 to turn away Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas. The issue received national attention when photos circulated of Customs and Border Protection agents on horseback using their reins like whips against Haitian migrants.

At-large City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune said this result comes at the end of months of extensive organizing.

“I was relieved [when I heard about the announcement],” Louijeune said. “I mean, so many activists, so many organizers, so many elected officials have been organizing around this issue, pressuring the Biden administration and speaking with the moral clarity necessary for the moment — but also exhausted that we have to use our time and our resources to do what should have been pretty simple, which was reverse a Trump-era policy.”

In February, the Boston City Council passed a resolution ordered by Louijeune calling on the Biden administration to cease use of Title 42 to turn away migrants.

Despite the joy at the announcement, leaders of Boston’s Haitian community question why its termination must wait nearly two months, until the end of May.

“My hope was that it would be an immediate decision that was starting exactly since last week, when they came up with the new plan for them to stop it,” Gabeau said. “But unfortunately, as you can see, it’s all the way in May that they’re going to implement.”

Dieufort Fleurissaint, chair of Haitian-Americans United, Inc., said he thinks that waiting until May is too long, as Haitians continue to be turned away and sent back to a country devastated by kidnappings, gang activities and violence.

“On a daily basis, Haitians have been expelled from the United States. We’re talking about parents, taking about children, even children that are born in the United States, being expelled to Haiti,” Fleurissaint said. “When you go to the State Department website you will see warnings regarding Haiti that urge citizens not to travel to Haiti, because Haiti is a very dangerous place.”

In its media statement, the CDC said the May implementation date is to allow the Department of Homeland Security to implement COVID-19 mitigation protocols, such as scaling up a program to provide vaccinations and to resume normal migration policies.

Meanwhile, a New York Times report said the decision is expected to face legal challenges. Louijeune said hopes any such challenges fail.

“There was no evidence, as public health experts said repeatedly, that migrants were bringing coronavirus into the United States, so, anyone who is challenging chooses to challenge the repeal of an unjust law,” Louijeune said.

As the U.S. phases out the use of Title 42 to address COVID-19, Fleurissaint said, he hopes the Biden administration will consider other steps to protect Haitian migrants in the United States, such as humanitarian parole or reinstating Temporary Protected Status.

“When you’re thinking about all the issues that need to be tackled, we really hope that the administration could make some kind of compassionate gesture,” Fleurissaint said.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley said in a press release that she thinks more work needs to be done to address equity in the immigration system.

“Ending Title 42 is only the first step,” Pressley said in the release. “President Biden must lead with compassion and take every measure necessary to protect asylum seekers by ensuring that they have access to community-based supports and legal services, immediately halting deportations of migrants to the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Haiti, and working to designate Temporary Protected Status for Cameroon, Ethiopia and other majority-Black countries in crisis.”

For Louijeune, the termination of the Title 42 use is a good step, but she said issues remain.

“The whole juxtaposition of this being a moment of relief with a still deep, deep anger and frustration and sadness is very real, because for Black migrants, for the most vulnerable, we always feel like we have to do so much work to get that sense of equal dignity,” Louijeune said.