Burr asks Biden administration for science behind Title 42 decision
Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the senior Republican on the Senate Health Committee, on Tuesday sent a letter to the Biden administration asking the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reveal what science was used to justify lifting the Title 42 order limiting asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The administration has insisted the decision to rescind Title 42, the health order that has been used in expediting an estimated 1.7 million deportations, was based on science and not politics.
But the CDC has yet to explain the scientific justification in enough detail, Burr wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill.
“I believe that I understand the Administration’s progressive politics driving the decision, but I do not believe that there is adequate science that would allow such a decision to be made,” he wrote to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
Burr pointed out that former President Trump implemented Title 42 at the start of the pandemic to limit the migration of people from countries with high levels of communicable disease, specifically COVID-19.
While cases have dropped significantly in the United States, the levels of infection remain high south of the border.
“As of today, CDC assesses the risk of COVID-19 transmission in Mexico to be Level 3, or high, and all other countries in Central America are at or above Level 3, except for those that CDC recommends U.S. travelers entirely avoid due to lack of information about COVID-19 transmission levels,” Burr wrote.
Burr’s letter comes as the debate over Biden’s immigration policies is heating up in Congress.
Senate Republicans are insisting on a vote to amend a $10 billion COVID-19 relief bill to restore the Title 42 order, and the GOP amendment is expected to pick up Democratic support.
Five Senate Democrats, including Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), have criticized the administration’s decision to lift Title 42 and say they haven’t seen a detailed plan on how to deal with an expected flood of migrants over the spring and summer.
“Security of the border is everything. It’s everything,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says the proposed amendment to keep Title 42 in place is an “extraneous issue” and is warning his GOP colleagues not to hold the relief bill “hostage.”
He attempted to advance the relief package on the floor without a bipartisan deal on amendments, and Republicans blocked it Tuesday afternoon.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the decision to lift the Title 42 order was made entirely by the CDC and insisted that political considerations did not play a role
“This is a decision made by the CDC. It’s a public health decision. It’s not one that should be wrapped up, of course, in politics,” she said. “And the decision made by the CDC is where it should belong as it related to Title 42.”
Burr last week criticized the administration’s messaging on the status of the pandemic, saying it “continues to be a contradictory mess.”
“On the one hand, the Administration is clamoring for additional emergency funding and costing taxpayers $5 billion per month by delaying student loan repayment, citing the continued threat of COVID-19,” he said.
Burr in his letter challenged the CDC to explain how it has factored the waning efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines into its decision to open up the border to tens of thousands of new asylum claims.
“The durability of immunity among the U.S. population over the coming months remains to be seen, as much of the population continues to be ineligible for a fourth dose,” he wrote.
He warned this could “lead to increases in severe disease during future waves and will be exacerbated by the introduction of additional cases and likely undetected variants through illegal border crossings.”
Burr has requested that the agency answer seven questions by the close of business Thursday.
He wants to know how CDC weighed the risk of new COVID-19 cases coming into the country, how it weighed plateauing vaccination rates and the limited availability of a fourth dose, and what policies the administration is putting in place at detention centers to limit the spread of disease.
He inquired whether the Department of Health and Human Services is contributing funds to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the border, whether the CDC has received official estimates on how much migration is expected to increase and what the administration has done to prepare border communities for a possible new rise in infections.
Burr wants the agency to explain why it isn’t using its analyses to “lift other travel-related” COVID-19 rules such as the requirement to wear masks on planes, trains and other forms of transportation.
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