By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square

A COVID-19 policy that turned away 1.7 million people seeking asylum is being lifted, and Arizona officials on both sides of the aisle are concerned about a sudden increase in immigrants hitting the state’s southern border.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday it would terminate Title 42, a rule allowing border agents to turn away asylum-seeking immigrants for fear they could be carrying COVID-19. 

“After considering current public health conditions and an increased availability of tools to fight COVID-19 (such as highly effective vaccines and therapeutics), the CDC Director has determined that an Order suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary,” the department said in a statement.

The policy will end May 23.

Republicans criticized the move, saying Title 42 is an effective enforcement tool in the ongoing border crisis.

“In Arizona, our brave law enforcement professionals are working hard to protect border communities, all Arizonans and migrants,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said. “Yet the worst border crisis in over 20 years continues to receive no attention from the federal government. The Biden administration and Congress have turned a blind eye to our southern border for over a year now, and it’s devastating our communities.”

Ducey and others accused President Joe Biden of not taking the surge in immigrants crossing the country’s southern border seriously.

“Sadly, our courageous men and women in local law enforcement who are working tirelessly to protect our border, are doing so with no help whatsoever from President Biden. His incompetence has only exacerbated this crisis,” Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said.

Fann predicted immigration into Arizona from Mexico will double after the rule is lifted.

Democrats were cautious about the news, warning the Biden administration needs to be adequately prepared for any increase in asylum seekers.

“In the two months before this significant policy change goes into effect, the Administration must demonstrate that it has a coordinated, comprehensive strategy to be ready for the near-certain rise in attempted crossings and guarantee a humane, efficient immigration process,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Arizona. “This will have a significant impact on Arizona, which is why it’s imperative that this plan is developed in consultation with impacted Arizona communities, law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations.”

Others were upset the federal government planned to continue the policy for another two months.

“We welcome and we applaud the news that the Biden-Harris administration is finally listening to the calls of advocates to terminate Title 42”, said Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance. “This has been a long fight to restore access to protection for some of the most vulnerable people. Haitian Bridge Alliance has been advocating for an end to this Trump-era policy since April 2020 as a response to the increased expulsions of Haitian asylum seekers.”

Customs and Border Protection has encountered over 830,000 migrants since Oct. 1, double the number at the same time last year.