America's fight against COVID-19 could be hindered by President Joe Biden's handling of the immigration crisis as new variants from around the world cause a spike in domestic hospitalizations.
In virtually every public appearance by Biden, the pandemic takes center stage. When he or his health care advisers address the country they stress that the coronavirus remains a public health crisis, even as they quietly order border agencies to work around the clock to roll back coronavirus protections. At the Department of Homeland Security, staffers are preparing for the end of Title 42—a legal provision that allows the federal government to essentially halt all migration into the country during a pandemic. DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the law is "no longer required as a public health measure" in an internal memo, although he has yet to give a hard date on when the White House will officially revoke it. Experts estimate that Title 42 blocked more than 750,000 asylum-seekers from crossing the southern border since it's been enforced during the pandemic.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said the Biden administration's mismanagement at the border has exacerbated the immigration and pandemic crises. He called the rescission of Title 42 galling in light of reports that Biden is flirting with renewing mask mandates nationwide to deal with spikes in coronavirus levels.
"Biden’s open-border policies undermine the country’s COVID response, which means now is not the time to revoke critical Title 42 authority," McCarthy told the Washington Free Beacon. "This is a policy that protects public health, and if removed, it would only make a crisis situation even worse."
The White House did not return a request for comment.
Staff within Customs and Border Protection have expressed fear that they work at the forefront of new variants directly putting their health at risk. An internal mask mandate for officers on the southern border, including for those already vaccinated, gave little assurance that things would return to normal any time soon.
"The large influx of migrant processing at the border during a pandemic puts agent health and safety, not to mention their families, needlessly at risk," one senior CBP official said.
One agent stationed on the southern border questioned the transparency of the Biden administration, asking why Vice President Kamala Harris donned a mask when standing outside during her visit to the border. Either the Delta variant, or some new strain, is more dangerous than the White House lets on or the White House believes there’s some political benefit to safety theater, the agent said.
Even as migrants stream through various ports of entry on the southern border, the White House refuses to reopen the country’s border with Canada. When asked to explain the travel restrictions, White House press secretary Jen Psaki deferred to purported experts for guidance. "For any of these recommendations, we are always going to be guided by our North Star, and that is the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and our health and medical experts," she said, before declining to give an exact date on when Canadians can visit the United States. Meanwhile, House Democrats, like Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), are demanding the White House reverse course on the travel bans.
On Monday, the White House said it would keep all travel restrictions in place, citing the Delta variant, dealing a tremendous blow to American resorts and airlines that have lobbied to revoke the restrictions. The administration is not expected to revisit the decision until September.
The Biden administration's refusal to budge on international travel bans comes as a hospital in Houston last week reported its first patient infected with the Lambda variant, a coronavirus mutation first discovered in Peru. Little is known about the strain, although the World Health Organization suspects it is more easily transmissible and potentially more resistant to vaccinations than others.
"We are clearly seeing the beginning of the fourth wave of this pandemic, which is alarming at best," said Texas Medical Center CEO Bill McKeon.
Wall Street has signaled that a near-term recovery from the pandemic is anything but certain. On July 19, the market saw the largest one-day crash since the beginning of the year as investor appetite for risk plummeted over concerns about the Delta variant threatening a global recovery. Over 60 percent of financial professionals surveyed by Deutsche Bank said they viewed new coronavirus variants as their top concern, more than inflation.
The immigration crisis compounds the Biden administration’s difficulty in getting tens of millions more Americans vaccinated. More than 80 percent of migrants who cross the border are unvaccinated with 30 percent of those in detention refusing a vaccine when offered, according to the New York Post. Vaccine hesitancy among migrants has caused massive outbreaks in detention facilities. The Biden administration's commitment to quickly releasing migrants from holding facilities forces border cities, like Laredo, Texas, to deal with the consequences. Data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services show 99.7 percent of ICU beds at the Laredo Medical Center are occupied.
One individual familiar with internal conversations within ICE says the new surge in cases could delay a formal rescission of Title 42. The question, the individual said, is whether left-wing activist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues the law is illegal, will work with the Biden administration and temporarily drop their litigation against the federal government. Publicly, at least, the ACLU has given no indication that it plans on dropping any lawsuits.
"We hope the Biden administration will not make ongoing litigation necessary by rescinding this illegal policy created by the Trump administration," ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said on Jan. 29.