President Biden’s scheduled meeting with Hispanic Democrats touched on a series of issues affecting Latino communities, but kitchen table topics were overshadowed by the ongoing debate over the termination of Title 42.

Seven members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) met with Biden for over an hour at the White House Monday, seeking to present a unified front on an issue that Republicans are exploiting to paint a picture of chaos at the border.

“The Congressional Hispanic Caucus made it very clear that the Title 42 policy is a public health emergency policy that was instituted under the Trump administration during its hate and fear anti-immigrant agenda,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) told reporters following the meeting. 

“We are in a different position now than we were in the past,” he said. “There’s ample vaccines available. There is the ability to test and quarantine that work. And so, Title 42 should be lifted, and that we should focus on border management policy in order to make sure that they have the resources in order to move forward.”

But the administration’s plans to stop enforcing Title 42 were thrown into doubt as the meeting came to a close. A Trump-appointed federal judge in Louisiana said he planned to block the administration’s plans for rescinding the public health order, a win for a group of GOP-led states who sued to stop Biden from moving forward. 

The meeting punctuated internal disagreement in the Democratic Party around the Biden administration’s decision to end enforcement of the Title 42 authority, a public health order that allows border officials to speedily turn away migrants at the U.S. southern border. 

Immigration advocates have a litany of concerns about the policy, but at the center of those issues is that it allows officials to forego asylum screenings, blocking persecuted migrants from exercising a right they have under U.S. law.

While many support the Biden administration’s decision and indeed wish it had come sooner, others have expressed concern about the plans amid a prolonged spike in border crossings. 

“Yes they’re listening to the immigration activists, but my question is who’s listening to the men and women in green and in blue and, more importantly, who is listening to the border communities – the sheriffs, the landowners, the rest of the people who live on the border?” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who represents a border community and has raised concerns about the policy decision, said on “Fox News Sunday.” 

Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), who was tasked with presenting the group’s position on Title 42 to Biden, said the meeting touched on a series of issues before turning to immigration, an issue that still led coverage of the meeting.

“The reality is when you talk to Latinos they’re talking about the economy, jobs, air pollution, and so the media is talking about things that are divisive,” said Barragán.

Barragán added that the CHC puts more blame over the immigration policy crisis on former President Trump than on Biden.

“The bottom line is this president walked into a tough situation with a prior administration who dismantled the legal immigration system,” she said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the meeting was part of Biden’s outreach to individual congressional caucuses. Biden has recently met with the Congressional Progressive Caucus as well as other groups in Congress. 

Attendees said that it also covered the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law, immigration reform, and environmental justice. 

At one point, an aide to the president walked into the room with a note saying the 30-minute meeting had gone on for 62 minutes.

Biden, rather than keep the information to himself, read the note out loud to laughter from the attendees.

Meanwhile, the White House is facing pressure from immigration advocates to forcefully oppose a bill that has attracted support from moderate senators that would delay an end to the enforcement of Title 42. The White House has not taken a position on the legislation. 

“I just wish that the Biden administration would stand up and explain what it’s doing and own it,” said Clara Long, associate director at Human Rights Watch who focuses on immigration and border policy. 

Psaki again on Monday said it would be up to Congress to make any changes to CDC’s Title 42 enforcement, but she declined to say whether Biden would sign legislation that did so. 

“This would be Congress having the discussion. We are continuing to prepare for a May 23 implementation,” Psaki said. “There will be a range of conversations about this over the coming days.” 

The lawsuits filed by GOP-led states seem to be the biggest immediate threat to the administration’s plans. Some have speculated that the White House would like to see the courts thwart their plans in order to take a hot-button political issue off Biden’s plate. 

“I think there’s a theory going around that they’re hoping the courts give them a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Long.

Biden’s approval ratings are particularly low on his handling of immigration. 

A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted earlier this month found that 54 percent of registered voters oppose Biden’s decision to lift Title 42. 

But a different poll conducted in February by Impact Research for the National Immigration Law Center found that 52 percent of likely 2022 voters support ending Title 42 enforcement. 

Still, most CHC members believe that the administration can push forward with its vision of border policy, because Republicans are unlikely to relent from attacking Biden on immigration and the border.

“No matter what the president does, they’re going to make noise. The president and the Democratic-controlled Congress have done amazing things, that’s why econ has improved,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), who attended the meeting.

“Republicans don’t want to focus on the glass that’s half full, they want to convince us the glass is half empty,” he added.

Some advocates for ending the policy, which they say represented one prong of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, argue that Democrats are risking turning off their base by voicing support for continuing the policy. 

“This is a policy that can help you win and the flipside of that is embracing the Republican talking points is not going to help you win those Democratic voters that you desperately need to turn out for you in November,” said Bri Gillis, political director of the National Immigration Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Fund. 

Still, some Democrats say the discussion of Title 42 is moot.

“There’s nothing to debate, you’re either for Title 42 or you’re not,” said Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), a CHC member who did not attend the meeting.

“Everybody’s talking abt Title 42 when that’s not the issue. The real issue is American industrial might, nearshoring of American jobs from China, creating a stronger manufacturing base, and a lot of that relies on immigrants. And we’re talking about Title 42. Doesn’t even come close to addressing the bigger public policy issues in this country and that’s what everybody’s talking about. And it’s hurting us,” said Correa.

Tags Biden Congressional Hispanic Caucus Henry Cuellar Henry Cueller Joe Biden Nanette Barragán Raul Ruiz Title 42

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