The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is officially ending Title 42, the controversial policy implemented by the Trump administration restricting migrants from coming into the country under the auspices of a public health emergency.
The policy was first enacted at the beginning of the pandemic and has remained in place since then, despite advocates criticizing the administration for keeping the policy in place.
The lifting of Title 42 will occur on May 23 to give the Department of Homeland Security adequate time to prepare, including getting more COVID-19 vaccine doses and other measures to deal with the expected influx of migrants, the CDC termination notice written by Director Rochelle Walensky says. Earlier this week, the department gave reporters an estimate that up to 18,000 migrants could be apprehended at the border each day if Title 42 were to be lifted.
“DHS has represented that over the next several weeks it is taking important steps to implement processes in preparation for the full resumption of border operations,” the order says.
The termination notice says that Title 42 was implemented to prevent diseases from coming into the United States for only a period of time and DHS was consulted in the termination of this rule.
“Following an assessment of the current epidemiologic status of the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. government’s ongoing response efforts, I find there is no longer a public health justification for the August order and previous orders issued under these authorities,” Walensky writes.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement that Title 42 is "not an immigration authority, but rather a public health authority used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect against the spread of communicable disease."
“Once the Title 42 Order is no longer in place, DHS will process individuals encountered at the border pursuant to Title 8, which is the standard procedure we use to place individuals in removal proceedings," Mayorkas said. "Nonetheless, we know that smugglers will spread misinformation to take advantage of vulnerable migrants. Let me be clear: those unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed."
Homeland Security and State Department officials on a call with reporters Friday sought to reassure the American public that there is a plan in place to deal with the increase in migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border that lifting Title 42 will trigger.
One of the driving reasons behind the delayed implementation of the Title 42 repeal is to allow authorities at the border time to ramp up the vaccination program announced last month, administration officials said Friday.
“That is going to take some time to ramp up,” a senior DHS official said. “The time period is meant to ensure that we can do processing safely and humanely and consistent with best public health practices.”
This week, CBP is distributing about 2,000 vaccines a day at 11 locations and plans to scale up the process in coming weeks to distribute 6,000 vaccines a day at more than two dozen locations along the border, one official said. Migrants will be given Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and those who refuse will either be detained or released with more stringent monitoring requirements, the official said.
Officials said they are beefing up CBP and ICE officials at the border to deal with the expected influx of migrants. Border Patrol sources tell ABC News they are hiring as many agents as they can to help with potential processing increases.
DHS officials told reporters the decision to terminate Title 42 was part of a “fact finding” mission about a “range of items” and trends on the southwest border.
While the May 23 decision runs contrary to demands from advocates to immediately repeal the policy, agents at the border remain concerned that they will not have enough time to ramp up processing capacity in the event of the anticipated migration surge.
FEMA is continuing to work with local nonprofits and municipal governments to fold them into the planning process for handling migrants as they're released.
Officials told reporters they’ve been working with immigration groups to identify the particularly vulnerable individuals who are in Mexico and are looking for ways to “streamline the process.”
ABC News' Mireya Villarreal contributed to this report.