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Imminent End of Formal U.S. Pandemic Emergencies Marks New Era in Immigration Realm

February 24, 2023 (2 min read)

Muzaffar Chishti, Julia Gelatt, MPI, Feb. 23, 2023

"The looming termination of the U.S. public-health emergency designation imposed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic will usher in sweeping changes that touch many facets of life in the United States, including for people arriving at U.S. borders and immigrants residing in the country. The lifting of the emergency declaration, set to occur on May 11, could end COVID-19 vaccine requirements for international visitors and end the summary expulsion of asylum seekers and other migrants at the U.S. border under Title 42, although many will face a new set of rules for seeking asylum. It will also affect access to free COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and treatment; end expanded food assistance to some low-income individuals; and coincide with changes that cause millions to lose Medicaid coverage. While these impacts will hit all U.S. residents, they will have a disproportionate impact on immigrants, especially those with low incomes.

Some of the fallout from terminating the emergency declaration and two related national emergencies will occur gradually. Expanded access to public benefits such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allotments were originally tied to the emergency declaration, but with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 Congress mandated that they begin winding down in March and April, ending by May 2024. Other critical federal relief introduced during the pandemic has either already ended or is not linked to the emergency declarations and thus will remain in effect. This includes stimulus payments, enhanced unemployment benefits, bans on evictions, emergency rental assistance, and expanded subsidies for health insurance purchased through a marketplace. Similarly, supplemental state and local assistance in some cases may not be tied to the ending of federal emergency designations.

Many pandemic-era safety net benefits yielded tremendous results, including a record drop in poverty, and offset some of the economic challenges of the pandemic, which were disproportionately borne by immigrants and those in mixed-status families. Meanwhile at the U.S.-Mexico border, authorities have expelled migrants more than 2.6 million times under Title 42, depriving many of an opportunity to seek asylum in the United States and contributing to a haphazard and ad hoc treatment of border arrivals. The end of the public-health emergency declaration, then, marks the transition to an uncertain new period.

At the same time, hundreds of U.S. residents are dying daily of COVID-19 and the World Health Organization (WHO) still considers the disease a public-health emergency of international concern. But the pandemic has reached an inflection point, according to WHO; high rates of immunity are limiting the disease’s impact and long-term public-health attention should transition to mitigating the impacts of the virus, which is now endemic. All 50 U.S. states and Washington, DC declared public-health emergencies at the start of the pandemic; only seven are set to continue past February.

This article outlines the possible changes facing immigrants and new arrivals to the United States because of the lifting of the federal public-health emergency designation in May. ..."