In a statement on Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, “[c]cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our wider economy. We are pleased to take steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Economic losses have been particularly devastating to border communities, which depend on travel and tourism. When the previous administration stopped the Border crossing San Ysidro over the Thanksgiving weekend of 2018 in their effort to block asylum seekers, local businesses lost an estimated $5.3 million. “The economic impact was deep and immediate in the border region, where retail businesses rely on cross-border traffic – at least 90 percent of retail customers in San Ysidro are from Mexico,” The New York Times reported at the time. “It was a disaster for us, it was just a very important lost day,” said local entrepreneur Rahil Iqbal. told NBC San Diego at the time.
It was no different in the northern border region. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand mentioned nearly $660 million in losses in Erie County, which borders Canada, the Time reports. In Washington State, Senator Patty Murray “said that lifting the restrictions would benefit communities she represents, such as Point Roberts, which are ‘almost entirely dependent on cross-border travel to support their economies,'” the report continued.
But the government’s announcement also raises another important issue: If the US can welcome vaccinated travelers through gates and has already admitted countless others for “essential” purposes, why is it still blocking asylum seekers under its flawed Title 42 policy?
“During the pandemic, there have been no COVID-related restrictions on ‘essential’ travel, which are so broadly defined that 10,000,000 people cross each month,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy adviser to the American Immigration Council. tweeted. “The big question raised by the lifting of travel restrictions is whether the Biden administration will do that.” And last but not least allow more than a handful of people to apply for asylum through the gateways. At the moment it is virtually impossible to apply for asylum without crosses between POEs,” he wrote in another tweet.
While the Biden administration has reportedly launched a plan to vaccinate recently crossed asylum seekers and migrants, testing and dosing has largely fallen on the shoulders of local communities and organizations. Since so many Americans don’t seem to want a dose, why not offer it to migrants? They seem to want it. “Several days ago, Ted Cruz blamed migrants for increasing COVID cases in South Texas,” Reichlin-Melnick tweeted in July. “Well, recently released data from one of the largest migrant shelters in South Texas not only convincingly refutes those claims, but shows that 90% of migrants have voluntarily received a vaccine!”
Title 42 will also remain in place under the Biden administration as senior officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have expressed doubts about its continued use to swiftly deport asylum seekers in violation of their US and international rights.
Forbes reported that while the chief medical adviser recently… said, “he didn’t know enough about the ‘tricks’ of the policy to comment,” he said, “his feeling has always been that focusing on immigrants, evicting them… is not the solution to an outbreak.” The problem, Fauci said during his interview, “is in our own country… Immigrants can certainly get infected, but they are not the driving force behind this, let’s face the reality here.”