Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
December 18, 2022
As I wrote last night, it looks like this is going to be one heck of a week. Tomorrow afternoon at 1:00, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol will hold its last public hearing. It is expected to vote on whether to refer former president Trump to the Department of Justice for criminal charges. Then, on Wednesday, it is scheduled to release its report, which is said to be around 1000 pages.
These looming events appear to be causing Trump concern. On Truth Social yesterday, he gave his opinion of the whole proceeding: “They say that the Unselect Committee of Democrats, Misfits, and Thugs, without any representation from Republicans in good standing, is getting ready to recommend Criminal Charges to the highly partisan, political, and Corrupt ‘Justice’ Department for the ‘PEACEFULLY & PATRIOTICLY’ speech I made on January 6th. This speech and my actions were mild & loving, especially when compared to Democrats wild spewing of HATE. Why didn’t they investigate massive Election Fraud or send in the Troops? SCAM!” (The quotation is produced here as it appeared.)
Today he continued to post similar statements.
Meanwhile, Andrew Solender and Alayna Treene of Axios reported today that the Republicans are planning to issue their own 100-page report, focusing on what they say are security failures, claiming that the January 6th committee has “never dealt with the serious issues.” The committee report is expected to discuss security failures.
One of the authors of this Republican “shadow” report is Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), himself implicated in the attempt to overturn the election. Another is Representative Jim Banks (R-IN), whom Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) called out in October 2021 for falsely representing himself as the ranking member of the actual January 6th committee.
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) warned the January 6th committee to preserve all its materials. Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) seemed unimpressed. Not only does the committee have to preserve all its materials by law, but it intends to make its material available to the public. “He’s the public. If he wants access to it, all he has to do is go online and he’ll have it,” he told Solender.
But that is not all that’s going on this week.
Congress continues to hammer out a big funding bill to keep the government funded through the end of next September. This is entangled in the Republican Party’s internal chaos. The far-right members of the House caucus don’t want a deal before they take control of the House, expecting that they can exert pressure on the administration to do as they wish by refusing to fund the government. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans recognize the mess that would create and have worked to get a deal finalized. Still, a few Senate Republicans are now backing the House extremists, apparently unwilling to open themselves to the charge of cooperating with Democrats.
Until last Thursday it appeared that one of the things that would make its way into the funding bill was a deal on immigration reform. Greg Sargent of the Washington Post was following the story closely and noted that by early December, Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) appeared to have hammered out a deal that offered to Democrats a path to citizenship for about 2 million “dreamers,” people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents without documentation and have never known any home but this one. It offered protections for migrant rights by providing up to $40 billion for processing those coming to the U.S. to seek asylum; the money will pay for more processing centers, more judges, and more asylum officers.
To Republicans it offered more resources for removing migrants who don’t qualify for asylum. It offered more funding for officers at the border. And it continued the Title 42 restrictions on migrants until the new processing centers were ready.
Title 42 is a law that permits the government to keep contagious diseases out of the country, and Trump put it in place in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, not least because it enabled him to stop considering migrants for asylum as required by U.S. and international law (Title 42 had only been used once before, in 1929, to keep ships from China and the Philippines, where there was a meningitis outbreak, from coming into U.S. ports). Extremist Republicans like using Title 42 as a way to stop immigration to this country, although technically it is an emergency rule.
But while the potential reform package drew support from conservative outlets like the Wall Street Journal editorial board, right-wing extremists opposed it, claiming that the pathway toward citizenship for dreamers would, as anti-immigrant Trump adviser Stephen Miller said, “turn the present tsunami of minor-smuggling into a biblical flood.”
As of last Thursday, the immigration deal was off the table. Republicans objected to it and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he would not let it be attached to the funding bill even if the negotiators could hammer out the last details.
So what does this have to do with next week? On Friday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Title 42 must end on December 21 unless the Supreme Court steps in.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the Biden administration tried to end the rule last April, saying public health no longer warranted it. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the policy would end on May 23, permitting those who had been turned away under the policy to apply for asylum. “Let me be clear, Mayorkas said, “those unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed.” Nonetheless, Stephen Miller promptly said that ending Title 42 “will mean armageddon on the border. This is how nations end.”
More than 20 Republican-dominated states immediately sued the administration, insisting that Biden was trying to put in place “open border policies” rather than simply ending the pandemic-related policy. In May a Trump-appointed judge in Louisiana blocked the lifting of the rule. In November, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan vacated the rule, saying it was “arbitrary and capricious,” but gave the administration until mid-December to prepare for the change. Now a federal court has decided the rule must end this Wednesday.
What this change will look like is not clear. It does not magically create “open borders” as Republicans charge; it simply restores the law as it was before March 2020. This will have one immediate consequence: under ordinary immigration law, making an attempt to cross the border after being rejected bears a heavy penalty, which it does not under Title 42. The lack of that penalty under Title 42 meant migrants made repeated attempts, one of the factors that has so inflated the number of immigrant “encounters” in the past two years. So the change is likely to slow down repeated attempts to cross the border.
The Department of Homeland Security has released a six-point plan for managing what it expects will be an increase in the number of migrants. It will hire about 1000 additional Border Patrol processing coordinators and add another 2500 personnel—both contractors and government workers—to work in ten new “soft-sided” facilities, which will increase capacity by about a third. It will continue increasing transportation for migrants to places farther from the border, to avoid overcrowding.
But, Secretary Mayorkas says, our system is “fundamentally broken.” It is “outdated” at every level, and “in the absence of congressional action to reform the immigration and asylum systems, a significant increase in migrant encounters will strain our system even further. Addressing this challenge will take time and additional resources, and we need the partnership of Congress, state and local officials, NGOs, and communities to do so.”
And yet, for the Republicans there is an obvious political payoff to leaving the situation unaddressed.
Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) tweeted today: “With Title 42 ending, our nation is going to be overrun with illegals worse than at just about any other point in history. Remember, this is intentional and all part of Biden’s systematic destruction of America.” Republican extremists are already demanding that the incoming Republican House majority impeach Secretary Mayorkas.
In a week when a former Republican president seems likely to make history as the first president to be referred to the Justice Department for criminal charges, it seems likely we’ll hear a great deal indeed from Republicans about the end of Title 42.