EXCLUSIVE: Anti-Title 42 Messages Popular With CDC Director Before She Terminated Policy, Emails Show

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
July 15, 2022 Updated: July 15, 2022

Messages urging the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to end Title 42 were shared by the agency’s director with colleagues in the weeks leading up to her decision to terminate the policy, emails obtained by The Epoch Times show.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director, shared three different messages with other top officials at the agency that urged her to end Title 42, a public health order that enables quick expulsion of illegal immigrants because of concerns they have COVID-19 amid the pandemic.

The calls from the American Bar Association and two other groups claimed that Title 42 was illegally preventing asylum seekers from seeking protection and that the order violated both national and international law.

Walensky announced on April 1 that she was ending the policy, claiming that it was unnecessary due to the increasing number of people who have received COVID-19 vaccines and the availability of treatments for the disease.

“Based on the public health landscape, the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the procedures in place for the processing of covered noncitizens, taking into account the inherent risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in congregate settings, CDC has determined that a suspension of the right to introduce such covered noncitizens is no longer necessary to protect U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, lawful permanent residents, personnel and noncitizens at the ports of entry (POE) and U.S. Border Patrol stations, and destination communities in the United States,” Walensky, an appointee, of President Joe Biden, said at the time.

SARS-CoV-2, also known as the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, causes COVID-19.

A federal judge later stopped the administration from ending Title 42.

Only Opposition

In the weeks before announcing the decision, Walensky did not send any calls to keep Title 42 in place to colleagues, the emails show.

On March 19, Walensky forwarded a report by a nonprofit called Human Rights First that found nearly 9,900 reports of violent attacks against people who were in Mexico because of expulsions from Title 42. She sent the report to Sherri Berger, the CDC’s chief of staff.

On March 25, Walensky forwarded a perspective published in the New England Journal of Medicine by four doctors who claimed that the government was “misusing public health as a pretext to end asylum.”

“To discuss…” Walensky wrote to Berger.

On March 30, Walensky forwarded the American Bar Association letter (pdf), which urged the ending of Title 42 due to its purportedly violating federal and international law, to Berger and Tiffany Brown, the CDC’s deputy chief of staff.

The emails were obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request. The search triggered by the request spanned from March 18 to April 1.

Mark Morgan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) during the Trump administration, said he was not surprised by the apparent imbalance of views considered by the Biden administration.

Morgan, now a visiting fellow in the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation, told The Epoch Times that the current administration has only been considering the views of “a very select few individuals who were clearly aligned ideology-wise with respect to what they wanted the outcome to be.”

“All my sources have said since day one, the administration has really dismissed the career folks that have been doing this their entire adult lives,” he added.

The CDC did not respond to a request for comment.

Pressure

Walensky and other officials, including her boss, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra, faced increasing pressure to terminate Title 42.

Declared in March 2020 by then-CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, the order was imposed because “the existence of a communicable disease in a foreign country or place creates a serious danger of the introduction of such disease into the United States and the danger is so increased by the introduction of persons from the foreign country or place that a temporary suspension of such introduction is necessary to protect the public health.”

The Public Health Service Act, or Title 42, enables the CDC director to impose such restrictions.

The order enabled immigration officers to quickly expel illegal immigrants from the United States.

In the following months, illegal immigration plunged, in part because many illegal aliens were rapidly removed. Expulsions under Title 41 were much more common than arrests under Title 8, or federal law governing immigration enforcement, CBP statistics show.

Once Biden took office, illegal immigration exploded to unprecedented numbers—even with Title 42 in place. But more and more outside groups, like the American Bar Association, urged the administration to end Title 42, arguing it wasn’t effective at preventing the introduction of COVID-19, that it was inconsistently applied, and that it illegally prevented immigrants from asking for asylum.

“Both domestic and international law compel the U.S. to protect persons fleeing persecution or torture. The current Title 42 policy prevents the United States from meeting its obligations while affording no meaningful public health benefits,” Reginald Turner, president of the association, wrote to Walensky, adding that the government “should rescind the application of Title 42 and resume screening all asylum seekers at the border.”

On the other hand, other outside groups, virtually all Republicans, and a number of Democrats called for keeping the order in place.

“Given the impacts that changes to Title 42 could have on border communities, border security, and migrants, we urge your Administration not to make any changes to Title 42 implementation until you are completely ready to execute and coordinate a comprehensive plan that ensures a secure, orderly, and humane process at the border,” Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) wrote to Biden on March 24.

After the order was terminated, critics noted that the Biden administration has maintained the Trump-era emergency declaration over COVID-19, even as metrics like case numbers have dropped, and other pandemic-era restrictions.

“The Biden administration’s continued efforts to roll back Title 42, one of our last defenses against becoming an open-border country—on the grounds that the pandemic is over—while claiming the pandemic is ongoing are hypocritical at best. Even as the Biden administration has declared the pandemic over at the border, many federal restrictions remain in place for healthcare workers, our military, legal travelers, and even critical H-2A visa holders, which has created challenges for our farmers who are already hurting for labor,” Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), a member of the House Northern Border Caucus, told The Epoch Times via email.

“The fact that the CDC and White House are set on ending Title 42 shows the politicization of the CDC and Biden’s commitment to open border policies that put American communities at risk. Americans want a secure border, and it is time for the Biden Administration to listen to the American People,” Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee, added.

Epoch Times Photo
Border Patrol agents apprehend a large group of illegal immigrants near Eagle Pass, Texas, on May 20, 2022. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

White House Edits

The CDC did not act alone in ending Title 42, the newly published emails show.

The Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs suggested edits to the justification for terminating the order, and at least some of the proposals were accepted.

The process started on or before March 24, a week before the document was unveiled to the public, according to the emails.

“Thanks for debriefing with us earlier! Attached is the latest draft. It has not been through CDC clearance but we understand you would like to preview this version with a few folks. We plan to start CDC clearance in the morning,” Julia Charles, a CDC official, wrote to Paul Rodriguez, a lawyer with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), on March 24.

Rodriguez later shared “fresh legal comments” from the Department of Homeland Security and proposed edits to the document’s executive summary from the White House. The flurry of emails also showed that multiple calls were held on the matter, including a call involving Charles and the Department of Justice.

The proposed edits were redacted.

The document was signed by Walensky and there was no indication given inside that anybody else worked on it.

Then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in April that terminating the order “was coordinated with the Secretary of Homeland Security and through an interagency process, and there’s been planning in the works for months for this possibility that the CDC—to take this action,” she said.

Title 42 was slated to end on May 23, but U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays ordered the administration to keep it in place, first entering a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction after the states of Arizona, Louisiana, and Missouri sued.

The CDC did not explain why it ignored the Administrative Procedure Act and issued the termination order without notifying the public and soliciting public comment, Summerhays, a Trump appointee, ruled.

“Given the impact of the Termination Order on the Plaintiff States and their showing that the CDC did not comply with the [act], the Court concludes that the public interest would be served by a preliminary injunction preventing the termination of the CDC’s Title 42 Orders,” he said.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.