EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Advocates continue holding vigils for the record number of migrants dying on the U.S.-Mexico border and calling for the termination of Title 42 expulsions.

One such vigil was scheduled for Tuesday evening at Annunciation House, an El Paso nonprofit that temporarily houses asylum-seekers released from U.S. immigration custody. A similar vigil took place last Thursday, in which activists warned more migrants will die if the U.S. does not stop sending to Mexico migrants under the Trump-era policy to prevent the cross-border spread of COVID-19.

At least 555 migrants lost their lives on or near the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021, the deadliest year on record, according to the Mexico City-based Human Rights Academy.

But a federal judge has banned the Biden administration from doing away with Title 42 and a legislative solution is facing headwinds in Congress.

Last week, the Democratic-majority House Committee on Appropriations amended a health, labor and education spending bill to keep Title 42 in place 60 days after the Surgeon General lifts all COVID-19 health emergency declarations. Even then, the amendment requires the Surgeon General to consult federal, state, local and tribal governments involved in COVID-19 management and present a written plan to Congress of how the Surgeon General plans to address “a possible influx of entries and imports” into the country.

The bill and amendments still face review by the full House. But Republican opposition to rolling back Title 42 remains strong and may have some Democratic support. The Appropriations committee is composed of 33 Democrats and 26 Republicans.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington (courtesy House Committee on Appropriations)

“We are allowing illegal immigrants into the country and distributing them (into the interior) with little regard to testing or vaccination status,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington. “Yet many restrictions remain in place for health workers, our military, legal travelers and critical H-2A visa holders. […] The administration can’t have it both ways.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia, R-California, said the Biden administration must listen to federal employees overwhelmed by a historic migrant surge at the Southwestern border.

“The number one thing we are told (by the Border Patrol) is, it would be nice to secure the border, have more people, more technology. In the absence of these things the Democrats are adamant in not supporting, the least they can do is make sure Title 42 does not go away,” Garcia said. “This is literally the only opportunity they have to […] mitigate the humanitarian disaster at our Southern border (and) ensure that COVID doesn’t run rampant into our nation as a result of a porous border.”

If Democrats backed the Newhouse amendment on a voice vote, none publicly explained their rationale. Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, echoed the Biden administration’s posture that Title 42 should not be used to contain irregular migration.

“As an immigration enforcement policy, Title 42 is a failure. Individuals likely to be expelled under Title 42 take increasingly dangerous paths to evade (border agents), leading to deaths,” DeLauro said.

That, and they are falling prey to criminals after being expelled in Mexico, added U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-New Jersey.

“(Title 42) blocks people in need of protection from seeking asylum indefinitely without so much as a screening for eligibility. It sends (them) back to Mexico where they’re vulnerable to kidnapping and violent assaults or back to the violence they fled in their countries of origin,” she said. “It was never justified as a public health policy. CDC experts objected to the policy from its inception.”

U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, who sits on the Appropriations Committee and represents part of El Paso, said he supports delaying the cancellation of Title 42 to allow U.S. immigration authorities time to “have a coordinated and effective response” to the expected increase in migration doing away with Title 42 will cause.