When I was 7 years old, the snowmobile my father was driving broke down in the middle of Drews Lake, near where we lived in Houlton.

My pink kid’s boots were meant for playing in the yard, not walking the length of a lake from the ice shack. We lucked out: there was a house with wood smoke, occupied by an elderly couple who did not know us but when my father knocked, they took us in. The old woman gave me a warm bath. I remember vegetable soup. I do not remember their names.

What I do know is that there are very few New Englanders that would turn away anyone at their door in that situation.

When someone knocks on America’s door, one of the options available to them is to ask for help. It is to say: I fear for my life, please help.

It isn’t an easy process. Government officials ask questions to determine whether there is truth to their story. If there is not, the person is turned back. If there is, there is another level of scrutiny. And another. But every person has the legal and moral right to knock on our door and ask for this help. The process is not perfect, but it gives people seeking asylum the opportunity to tell their story.

Since COVID-19 began, however, there has been a policy in place called “Title 42,” falsely premised as a protection for the U.S. from COVID-19, despite arguments from the Centers for Disease Control at the time. Under this policy, some people are immediately turned back at the border, and are not given the opportunity to ask for help. Quite a few politicians are capitalizing on this by trying to make use of Title 42 a permanent border expulsion measure, arguing that removing this policy will overwhelm the border.


Except this policy isn’t helping. It is making the Southern border worse.

There is nothing stopping people turned away under Title 42 from trying again. And again, until they are finally able to ask for help. Because of this policy, the number of attempted border crossings has increased, to the point where 1 in 3 people picked up by Border Patrol has tried before. This is wasting the Border Patrol’s time and taxpayer dollars, and the longer the policy stays in place, the worse it will get. It is kicking the can down the road without even beginning to address the underlying issues.

Not only is Title 42 not the solution it is being touted as, but it is contrary to a value Americans and New Englanders in particular are known for: showing up and being generous when hard things happen.

When there is a terrible natural disaster in another part of the country, we send money and go on church trips to rebuild houses. When we know our neighbor has their hands full with their kids since their spouse was deployed, we offer to mow their lawn. We shovel the driveways of the elderly in our community. And when a shivering kid in pink winter boots shows up with the early signs of frostbite on her toes, we let her in. We get her warm. We feed her vegetable soup.

Title 42 prevents people from even asking for help when they need it most, which in turn undermines one of the values that we should be proud of as a community.  We need to end Title 42 to give people the opportunity to tell their story and give us the opportunity to live this value we hold so dear.

Amy R. Grenier, a Maine native, is policy & practice counsel at the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington, D.C.

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