Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

Every Emergency Needs to End, Even COVID-19

| May 05, 2023

Conditions have changed, and powers designed for crises are too easily abused

The Biden administration plans to send additional active-duty troops to the border with Mexico in anticipation of a migrant surge up to and after May 11. On that day, the White House's activation of Title 42—the 1944 law that allows the quick expulsion of immigrants to stop the "introduction of communicable disease" during a public-health emergency—will expire, along with most other emergency measures dating back to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Invoked by President Donald Trump in early 2020, and clearly aligning with his overall approach to border enforcement, Title 42 helped curb the flow of migrants into this country by essentially halting the admission of people seeking asylum. The policy's end is widely expected to accelerate the movement of migrants hoping to take advantage of what they will view, and what smugglers will portray to them, as more permissive borders.

There is a crisis at the country's southern border—a humanitarian crisis, a public-safety crisis, a social-services crisis. But it is not a pandemic-related public-health crisis; the virus is circulating widely in the United States regardless of whether migrants enter the country.

Last month, President Joe Biden signed legislation ending the national COVID-19 emergency period. When the Department of Health and Human Services lets the federal public-health emergency for COVID-19 expire next week, nearly the full array of policies that accompanied the government's emergency response will vanish. Because the COVID crisis led to an expansion of social-welfare benefits and access to free testing, some left-leaning health advocates have lamented the end of the official emergency. But Title 42 is as much a part of the pandemic response as was an expanded safety net. The immigration policy demonstrates that emergency powers can also be used for ends that disturb or appall progressives—which is why people from across the political spectrum should be wary of extending those powers indefinitely. Whether the restrictive border-enforcement strategy since 2020 is good or bad is a matter for our normal political process—not public-health powers—to settle....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“Every Emergency Needs to End, Even COVID-19.” The Atlantic, May 5, 2023.

The Author

Juliette Kayyem Headshot