The move is a mostly noncontroversial — though some critics would say long overdue — easing of a policy put in place as the United States and other nations sought to safeguard their populations during a global pandemic.
As conditions have improved, along with the availability of vaccines and mitigation measures, business leaders, lawmakers and mayors of border towns have pressured the federal government to ease travel restrictions.
Last month, the White House announced that it will relax air travel restrictions on foreign travelers who have been fully vaccinated starting in November. This week’s announcement brings requirements for people crossing by land in line with those flying into the country.
The new travel protocols will have no bearing on border crossers who enter the United States illegally, and the administration will continue to use the emergency public health authority known as Title 42 to rapidly return or “expel” those migrants, the officials said.
In contrast, travelers who enter the country lawfully at U.S. border crossings and other ports of entry pass quickly and are not held for prolonged periods in detention cells and other crowded settings where the virus is more likely to spread, the officials said.
The Biden administration has come under renewed pressure from immigrant advocates and others to end the Title 42 expulsions, which generally prevent migrants from requesting asylum or another form of humanitarian refuge. Since March 2020, when the Trump administration began using Title 42, authorities have expelled more than 1 million border crossers.
“The Title 42 restrictions are really about protecting the migrants themselves, the DHS workforce and local communities,” one official said. “There’s a strong public health basis, for the moment, for continuing with the Title 42 restrictions.”
Illegal border crossings have soared this year to the highest levels in at least two decades, and critics of the policy say the Biden administration is using it as a border control tool that deprives vulnerable migrants of a legal right to seek asylum.