America requires those emigrating legally to the U.S. to undergo a medical physical before entering the country. This practice, established in law known as Title 42, is more important now than ever as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., who took office in January, has introduced legislation to ensure that Title 42 is upheld and that immigrants who test positive for COVID-19 aren’t permitted entry into the U.S.
Herrell joins the show to discuss her bill, the Protecting Americans From Unnecessary Spread Upon Entry Act, or PAUSE Act, as well as her work to protect our southern border.
Also on today’s show, we read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about the grand reopening of a family-owned ice cream shop in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that rioters burned to the ground last summer.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to welcome back to the show Rep. Yvette Herrell of New Mexico. Rep. Herrell, thank you so much for being here.
Rep. Yvette Herrell: You know what, I am just pleased to be able to join you. So thank you for making the accommodations for me.
Allen: Oh, of course. Anytime. Well, the last time that you were on the show, congresswoman, we talked about the importance of protecting our southern border and ensuring that those who do immigrate to America do so legally.
You have just introduced your very first bill, which is focused on securing the border amid the ongoing pandemic. The bill is called Protecting Americans From Unnecessary Spread Upon Entry [Act], or the PAUSE Act.
Congresswoman, can you just tell us a little bit more about the PAUSE Act?
Herrell: I will, and you’re absolutely right, protecting that southern border could not be more important, especially for me in my district, coming from a state that has 180 miles of southern border in it.
But essentially, the legislation preserves the existing border health protection, and it’s intended to safeguard the citizens of our country and, naturally, of my state. And we really want to keep that Title 42.
Now, this is the tool, one of the health protections that the Trump administration invoked to give our Border Patrol agency [the] ability to deport those coming across our borders illegally from Mexico and Canada, because we are under a pandemic.
This gave the Border Patrol agency opportunities to deport, no questions asked, because they have to work under the assumption that everybody coming across the border illegally either has been exposed to or may be carrying COVID-19 or another infectious disease.
So this really is very important because a state like New Mexico, we’ve been in lockdown for over nine months, we’ve lost a large part of our economy, jobs. We just are not competitive in a regional manner in terms of competition economically with Texas and Arizona.
So for New Mexico, this is a huge opportunity to at least protect all of our border communities—and, in fact, beyond—from the spread of COVID.
It’s super exciting. We had over 30 co-sponsors on the bill. So that tells me that this is one that everyone is looking at and taking very seriously, and especially, again, under this pandemic situation.
Allen: It’s so good to see that there is so much support for this bill. It’s so critical.
Like you say, Title 42 says that those seeking to immigrate to the U.S., they must first undergo a physical and a mental examination. And like you say, of course, during the pandemic, this law is more important than ever.
If Title 42 were done away with, what impact would that have on our border states and even across America?
Herrell: Yeah, that is the $60,000 question because we can point to two years ago, 18 months ago, when we had the influx of traffic coming across the border. And in New Mexico, our small rural communities were really shouldering the burden of housing, offering housing, food, medical.
So that has been one of the reasons why this bill, this PAUSE Act, is so critical, because we don’t know who will be shouldering the burden of putting people into quarantine for 14 days, providing that medical evaluation, that testing, and then housing those that do indeed test positive for it.
It just layers so many more components of uncertainty and then financial insecurity to our communities who, No. 1, we just don’t have the revenue base that we had two or three years ago with any of our communities.
Plus, a lot of our nonprofit organizations that were really good at stepping up to the challenge two years ago, we’ve lost many of the volunteers out of those organizations because of … COVID.
So it’s really, looking at the big picture, we’re seeing, if [President Joe] Biden eliminates one of the tools that [former President Donald] Trump used in the toolbox, we know this slowed the spread in 2019 and 2020, and we don’t want to see it exasperating our border communities.
Allen: Of course. I know that one of your top priorities as a member of Congress is to protect American jobs. How does the PAUSE Act seek to also do that, to guard the jobs of Americans?
Herrell: I think this bill is really more focused on the health of our communities. … In fact, in it, it states that we’d like to leave it in play until these travel restrictions are lifted from level four to level one, until the federal restrictions are lifted on the national level, and to our state restrictions, like stay-at-home orders, wearing a mask, the kids not being educated.
So the bill itself specifically doesn’t play into any role of employment. It really is laser-focused on the health of our communities and our country.
Allen: And that is certainly so, so critical right now.
President Biden has signed a number of executive orders to change America’s border and immigration policies. This past Tuesday, he signed an executive order that removed Trump’s ban on catch and release at the border. What could this mean for America’s fight against COVID?
Herrell: Well, again, this is why this bill is so important, because here we have the nation [that] been under these pandemic restrictions and then to turn a blind eye to the fact that we would be allowing people into our country with no testing, with no knowing if they are carrying COVID or any other infectious disease.
So we’re putting the very people at risk that we’ve professed to try to protect over the last number of months. And that’s, I think, where it then becomes a very critical issue.
We’ve all known or had loved ones or friends that have … become ill and lost their lives, in some cases. So why would we want to even chance people coming into our nation illegally that have the COVID virus and can spread it? And we know it spreads so very easily.
So this is really more of a health concern than any other thing. And especially being in lockdown for almost a year now, I think we have to be very mindful of who we’re allowing into the nation.
Allen: Speaking of that, you have been such a strong advocate of our border wall, but one of the very first actions that Biden took was ending funding for construction of the southern border wall. How is this going to impact America’s border states specifically?
Herrell: Well, it’s unfortunate because everybody knows that the wall has worked very well. It has given protections, not only to the communities that I represent, but it’s a form of national security. We know it had slowed the traffic down across our borders, the illegal foot traffic.
So I’m very proud of the fact that myself, Congressman [James] Comer, and every Republican member of the Oversight [and Reform] Committee, we wrote a letter and sent it to President Biden, just, in fact, yesterday or the day before, requesting all documents and communication related to his unilateral decision to halt the construction.
And what people may not understand is just stopping the funding for the border wall, stopping that construction, that’s going to be very costly to the American public because we are already by contract, we have contract agreements with a number of contractors, subcontractors along the border and throughout the country that are working on the fencing and the wall, not to mention the products that are sitting there ready to be used.
When I say products, I’m talking about the panels, the steel panels, and concrete, etc.
So just because you say “no” to this doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be caught holding the bag, if you will, because the American people are going to be on the hook for those contracts that we just unilaterally decide we don’t want to be a part of anymore.
And that’s why we have contract agreements and safeguards in our nation. Under almost any circumstance, you have repercussions for backing out of a contract.
So we’ll have to see what the cost is to the American people. And that’s why the Oversight [and Reform] Committee, under our leadership, and with Congressman Comer, wanted to know, we want to be able to see these documents that are relative to this halting [of] funding for the border wall and stopping construction.
Allen: What are you hearing from your constituents back home in New Mexico, as they’re seeing the actions that President Biden has taken on the border wall and on immigration policies?
Herrell: Oh, they’re very concerned.
Again, living in a border state that has over 180 miles of southern border, we were able to see, physically, a real downturn in the number of foot traffic. It’s a very different place when you don’t have those protections in place to protect your livestock, your farms, your families, your communities—it’s unsettling.
These are American citizens that are born and raised in America, pay taxes to the state of New Mexico and the federal government. And to see that we’re going to compromise the health and safety of our communities—and it won’t just stop in those towns. It’ll be expanded … further into the nation.
And we don’t ever hear people talk about the drug cartels, the amount of drugs, the sex trafficking, the things unrelated to just border wall that have a profound effect on not only our state, but other states as well.
So there’s grave concern because we have seen efforts of President Trump’s administration work—like the Title 42, the wall—and now to have all of that yanked out from under these people that live in and around the border, it’s unfortunate and there’s grave concern.
Allen: The immigration path that the Biden administration really appears to be taking, where does that ultimately lead us as a nation?
Herrell: I think that puts the nation in a little bit of an unequal footing.
I mean, clearly, this is going to make our borders way more porous and we’ve worked very hard to ensure that the processing is done correctly, that people that want to come into our nation through the correct channels can do so in a process that is timely.
So this is signaling that we’re going to essentially open our borders. …
We had the opportunity to visit with the ambassador of Guatemala, of Honduras, and Mexico last week, my office. We reached out to them, the ambassadors, to have these conversations and discuss the immigration crises that could potentially be happening and start happening at our borders.
It’s about good relationships and building the relationships and continuing to allow these foreign nations to do what they need to do in their own countries to establish a viable economy, because they’re concerned about losing their workforce and the people that are coming here.
And we have now in my state, we have such a high percent of unemployment. So we’re going to have to find a way to bridge that gap.
But opening our borders or signaling that we are open and we’re not having any kind of restrictions put on our crossings and on our ability to come into the nation, one, it’s not fair to those that did wait in line and did go through the proper channels. And it really is an unfortunate message to the other countries of people trying to come here. …
The journey to get here is incredibly dangerous. So I think we need to do a better job at our humanitarian effort and protecting those that are making that trek across multiple countries to get here.
Allen: Regarding Title 42 and your work through the PAUSE Act, what is next for your legislation?
Herrell: Hopefully we’ll get it into the committee hearings. I would want to see bipartisan support on this piece of legislation. Again, this piece of legislation is not political. It is truly about people and it’s about people, quite frankly, on both sides of the border.
We need to protect the American citizen who has been in lockdown and been a victim of this pandemic, whether they had the disease, knew somebody who did, or lost their job, lost their livelihood, but also to protect those that are being held in close quarters so that we’re not spreading this disease just unilaterally back and forth, back and forth, when we’re finding now so many ways to find measures that can help—the vaccine, for instance.
We’re ready to make sure that those that want the vaccine have access to it—our health care workers, our police officers, our Board Patrol. So, to me, by not pushing this bill through, we’ve taken two steps forward with the Trump administration and now five steps backward.
Allen: Rep. Herrell, thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it.
Herrell: Awesome. Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and look forward to visiting again.