As the US decision on asylum limits nears, COVID-19 rates plummets

A voice called out each name of the 169 people released by U.S. Border Patrol. The migrants climbed from their folding chairs at a clinic warehouse to walk to a table of blue-robed workers who swabbed the corners of their mouths.

As the US decision on asylum limits nears, COVID-19 rates plummets

On February 19, all but two Cuban women tested negative to COVID-19. They were moved to motel rooms while others boarded chartered buses that took them to Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport to travel across the U.S.

They were one of seven 5,301 positive tests that the Regional Center for Border Health in Yuma, Arizona performed last month for migrants who were released. This is a rate of 0.1%

As the Wednesday deadline approaches for the Biden administration to either end or extend severe restrictions on asylum that were imposed in an effort to limit the spread of the virus, COVID-19 rates have dropped among Mexican migrants who cross the border from Mexico. Lower rates raise questions about the scientific basis for a public order on health that has resulted in migrants being expelled from the United States over 1.7 millions since March 2020, without any chance to apply for asylum.

Although there is not an aggregate rate of migrants, tests from major corridors for illegal border crossings indicate that it is far below the levels that have raised concerns among U.S. officials.

According to California's Department of Social Services, 54 of the 2,877 migrants in California tested positive during the first two weeks of March. This is a decrease of 1.9% from the 28.2% peak on Jan. 8.

Pima County in Arizona, which includes Tucson had a seven-day positivity rate of 0.9% for migrants on March 10. This was down from 1.3% in March. In the last three months of 2013, the seven-day rate was at 5% for only two days. As the omicron variant spreads, it soared to double-digits during January. It reached 19.2% on Jan. 12, and fell below 5% on February 12.

McAllen in Texas, which is the largest city along the busiest route for illegal crossings, has a higher number of migrants at 11.3%. However, it has always been lower than the general population. Only two of the 24 border counties have high rates for general population: Hidalgo in Arizona, which includes McAllen and Yuma in Arizona.

McAllen's migration rate peaked at 20.8% in January. This was twice the rate in the general population. It sank to 1.4% in the last week November, when it was 6.2%.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are under increasing pressure to restore asylum and end Title 42, which is named after a 1944 law on public health. Critics claim it was an excuse to avoid U.S. asylum obligations and international treaties.

Justin Walker, a Washington federal appeals court judge, stated this month that it was not clear that the CDC order is serving any public health purpose. Walker was appointed by President Donald Trump and noted that the Biden administration had not provided any evidence to support the restrictions.

Walker wrote that the CDC's order "looks in some respects like a relic of an era without vaccines, scarce testing and little certainty." Walker was part of a three-judge panel.

Dr. Rochelle Walsky , Director of the CDC, noted falling rates after she lifted asylum restrictions on unaccompanied child migrants in March 2011. She also kept them for families and children. U.S. border officials began testing children who travel alone in their busiest areas in August. Positives dropped to 6% in March from nearly 20% in February.

According to the White House and Homeland Security Department, Title 42 decisions are up to the CDC. Walensky said Wednesday to reporters that the CDC was reviewing data in advance of next week’s deadline. He noted that its two-month renewal in January was near the peak of the omicron variation.

Title 42's scientific arguments have been met with skeptical suspicion from the beginning.

The Associated Press reported in 2019 that Vice President Mike Pence instructed the CDC to exercise its emergency powers. This was in direct contravention of agency scientists' claims that it would slow down the coronavirus.

Anne Schuchat was the second-highest ranking CDC official until May last year. She told Congress members after her departure that asylum limits were not a good public health measure because they lack foundation.

She stated that "the bulk of the evidence at that point did not support this policy proposal."

Title 42 has also many supporters. U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, Fort Worth, Texas, ruled this month that Title 42 should be stopped from spreading COVID-19.

While large-scale expulsions were conducted under Title 42, more than 2.8 millions cases were processed by the U.S. under normal immigration laws that allow people to apply for asylum.

Due to high costs andstrained diplomatic relations, many migrants are released to nongovernmental organizations and then ordered to appear in immigration court. These groups are tested for COVID-19.

Annunciation House in El Paso saw positives drop to 2% among approximately 175 migrants it tested every day in March. Ruben Garcia, director, stated that this was a drastic change from the 1% seen in other areas. He said that positives reached 40% during the peak of the omicron variant.

The Arizona Regional Center for Binational Health had a peak of 3% in monthly rates last year.

Amanda Aguirre is still wary of Title 42 lifting.

She stated, "My concern is that we will see new variants in this area at any moment."

According to the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition (which tests migrants in Del Rio, Texas), it has been going on for several weeks without any positive results.

The group responded to questions last week by writing, "Yesterday there were one positive and today one positive -- that's from hundreds of tested,".

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