White House to end Divisive Health Border Policy

A Trump-era rule blocks migrants to prevent the threat of Covid-19. Pressure is increasing for the Biden administration to end a Trump-era public health order being used to turn away migrants at the U.S. border, as Covid-19 cases drop and pandemic restrictions relax across the country.

Congressional lawmakers, public health experts and immigration advocates say the expulsions are not being used to keep Covid-19 out of America but to stop migrants from coming in — and in the process denying people fleeing violence and persecution the chance to seek asylum.

The pressure campaign comes at a fraught moment for the administration as it juggles a series of competing interests: wanting to signal that America is moving on from the pandemic even as the Omicron BA.2 subvariant spreads, and wanting to avoid an influx of would-be asylum seekers while welcoming refugees from the war in Ukraine.

Nearly two million people have been expelled at the northern and southwest land borders under the controversial order, known as Title 42, on the basis that allowing them into the U.S. immigration system during the pandemic poses a threat to Americans’ health.

“Right now Title 42 is the only policy they have to manage the volume of arrivals at the border,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “If [it] were to come down suddenly, they would be required to take into custody everybody they encounter and process their asylum claims. They would have a big logistical problem on their hands.”

The administration has said it is preparing for that possibility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the agency responsible for invoking the policy in 2020 — says it is now evaluating the order, which comes up for review every 60 days and ends on March 30.

“We last reassessed Title 42 at the end of January. As you recall, that was just around or right after the peak of our Omicron surge and we had hospital capacity challenges really across the country,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a Wednesday press briefing. “ We are currently reviewing the data and evaluating it.”

A confluence of events this month brought the policy renewed scrutiny. On March 4, a D.C. Circuit Court judge questioned what, if any, public health purpose the policy serves at this stage in the pandemic. A week later, the CDC, in response to a separate court ruling in Texas, ended the order for unaccompanied minors, but kept it in place for adults and families.

Since then, Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion have also run up against Title 42 — and in some cases been exempted. A March 11 memo obtained by POLITICO from U.S. Customs and Border Protection reminds staff that the CBP is permitted under Title 42 to make exceptions, including for Ukrainian nationals, on a case-by-case basis. The CBP did not respond to a request for information on how many have been made.

To critics of the policy, all of these developments undermine its justification of protecting Americans’ health, and further chip away at the reputation of the CDC at a moment when it is trying to regain the nation’s trust.

“From a public health point of view — in terms of providing protection to people residing in the United States — this does nothing,” says Ron Waldman, a former CDC epidemiologist and professor emeritus at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. “The CDC as a public health agency needs to be guided first and foremost by the science. I believe in this case that they are wrong on the science.”

From GM to Powerade, Brands Pitch Mental Health

Makers of sportswear, burgers and cars tout stress relief; Blue Apron recasts cooking as meditation, In a Powerade commercial, Simone Biles tells reporters during a press conference that she is taking a break. She is then seen getting a manicure.

To woo consumers, hotel chains typically offer free room upgrades and complimentary breakfast. Kimpton Hotels is trying a new incentive: help with mental health.

In a recent social-media campaign, the boutique-hotel operator said it is offering 1,000 of its guests free access to a video-therapy session from teletherapy company Talkspace Inc.

Kimpton is among a growing list of brands, from car companies to meal-kit makers, putting mental wellness front and center in their marketing. As the issue is increasingly destigmatized—with celebrities and athletes openly discussing their own mental health—companies are seeing an opportunity to connect with consumers.

Laura Simpson, chief intelligence officer at ad giant McCann Worldgroup, said the Covid-19 pandemic played a key role in boosting mental-health awareness. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back of finally making us have proper conversations about mental health,” she said.

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