Lifting the health emergency could also mean an abrupt end to Title 42, a health policy the Trump administration reinstated in March 2020 at the onset of the Covid pandemic to close the southern border. Authorities have given border officials the ability to quickly “deport” migrants without the opportunity to seek US asylum.
Attempts by the Biden administration to end Title 42 have been repeatedly blocked by courts, most recently by a Supreme Court decision to keep the policy in place for now. While the high court is not expected to rule until June, the White House’s move to end the statement could see the case dismissed as moot.
With little warning, Monday’s declaration caught lawmakers and industry officials by surprise, raising concerns about how the government plans to roll back the myriad options offered by emergency declarations over the past three years.
“I haven’t heard, ‘Well, here’s the rationale,'” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the chamber’s health committee. “I’m sure they have one, I just haven’t heard of it.”
The expiration of the emergency also marks a shift in the administration’s approach to the southern border as House Republicans scrutinize its immigration policies. Section 42, originally restored in March 2020 under the Trump administration, gives federal border officials the ability to quickly “deport” immigrants without the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.
A senior administration official defended the decision, telling POLITICO, “We are committed to a smooth and coordinated rollout, and we believe today’s announcement does just that.”
“The decision was made based on what’s best for the health of our country at this time,” the senior official said. “We’re in a pretty good place in the pandemic, we’ve come through the winter with more cases than the last two winters. dramatically drop.”
But others familiar with the matter said the government initially discussed a May 11 date next week for declaring the end of the emergency as the Feb. 11 deadline for advance notice to stakeholders approached.
The pace of disclosure came after it became clear that House Republicans plan to push measures aimed at ending the emergency and that some Democratic lawmakers may vote for them without further clarity from the administration on their official end date.
Biden health officials have spent the past few months preparing for a complex lifting of the health emergency that would eventually involve shifting responsibility for most vaccine and treatment distribution to the private market.
The process is happening as most Americans have resumed their daily routines and as federal funding for the White House’s coronavirus response dries up in the face of Republican opposition.
Myah Ward and David Lim contributed to this report.