GOP Threatens to Hold COVID Funding Hostage to Preserve Trump Immigration Policy

Tuesday, Senate Republicans Threatened to stop a new $10 billion coronavirus relief program unless Democrats allow a vote to preserve Title 42, a Trump era border expulsion strategy that the Biden administration is trying to end after months-long pressure from immigrant right groups.

Late Tuesday, Republicans in Congress blocked a procedural attempt to start consideration of the bipartisan Covid-19 Aid measure. This includes money to help the U.S. buy coronavirus test kit therapeutics and vaccines. Public health advocates have criticized the bill’s exclusion of funds to combat the pandemic globally.

“I think there’ll have to be an amendment on Title 42 in order to move the bill,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s procedural vote. “There’s several other amendments that we’re going to want to offer, and so we’ll need to enter into some kind of agreement to process these amendments in order to go forward with the bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Republicans of holding coronavirus relief “hostage for an extraneous issue.”

The GOP’s stonewalling comes as the Biden White House is urgently requesting Covid-19 funding to keep critical pandemic response programs alive. The administration has already had to cancel a program that covered coronavirus treatment and testing for the uninsured.

Quest Diagnostics was the first to take advantage of the opportunity and announce that patients without Medicare or Medicaid will be charged $125 per kit.

Politico reported Tuesday that Republican obstruction over Title 42 “could stall for weeks what Biden called much-needed coronavirus aid, unless senators can reach a deal before they plan to leave on Thursday or Friday.”

“Without a breakthrough, the aid won’t be approved until late April or perhaps May,” the outlet noted.

The Title 42 order was first issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2020 despite internal objections by experts. It allows immigration authorities to quickly expel asylum seekers and migrants at the border using the coronavirus panademic as a justification. Such a policy was long advocated by Stephen Miller, former President Donald Trump’s xenophobic immigration adviser.

The Biden administration refused to end Title 42 for months, despite calls from rights organizations and legal experts. Title 42 has seen more than a half a million migrants turned away at the southern border of the United States and sent back to their homelands in dangerous conditions.

The CDC announced last Wednesday that Title 42 would cease to be in force as of May 23, angering anti-immigrant Republicans. It also drew objections by some Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mark Kelly(D-Ariz.) and Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-Nev.).

It’s not clear whether those Democrats would be willing to vote with Republicans to push a Title 42 amendment into the Covid-19 funding bill.

The inclusion of such an amendment would likely endanger the legislation’s prospects in the House. Late Tuesday, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) — which has dozens of members in the lower chamber — said it “opposes any amendment to the Covid relief package that would attempt to reinstate the Trump-initiated Title 42.”

“The pandemic was used as an excuse to implement Title 42 and deny asylum-seekers their legal right to due process,” the CHC added. “Title 42 should not be used as border policy. Instead, we must work to address the root causes of migration, border efficiency, legal pathways to citizenship, and update our outdated immigration laws through immigration reform to address cyclical migration patterns.”