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A migrant carries a child to an intake area after turning themselves in upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on March 24, 2021, in Roma, Texas. (AP) A migrant carries a child to an intake area after turning themselves in upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on March 24, 2021, in Roma, Texas. (AP)

A migrant carries a child to an intake area after turning themselves in upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on March 24, 2021, in Roma, Texas. (AP)

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht April 22, 2022

Tillis stakes Title 42 claim on limited data

If Your Time is short

  • In a Morning Consult/Politico poll, 56% of respondents said they oppose the decision to remove the Title 42 border controls implemented by the Trump administration.
  • Polling experts say the phrasing of Morning Consult's question wasn’t ideal because it mentioned Donald Trump and Joe Biden, preventing a clean look into what respondents think about merits of Title 42, specifically.
  • A separate poll by a pro-immigration group found a narrow majority of Americans on the opposite side of the issue, supporting the idea of lifting Title 42.

A North Carolina senator says President Biden is on the verge of ending an immigration-related pandemic policy that most Americans support.

The Biden administration recently announced plans to lift what’s known as Title 42, a public health law that allows border officials to expel certain immigrants without giving them a chance to apply for asylum. Unaccompanied children and some others are exempt from the rule.

Title 42 has been controversial since former President Donald Trump enacted it at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Critics of the rule say it’s inherently xenophobic, while supporters see it as a tool that’s necessary for managing both the coronavirus and the influx of immigrants at the southern U.S. border.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., says he’s working with other Republicans to try to keep Title 42 in place after the Biden administration’s May 23 expiration date. In an April 7 press release with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Tillis claimed that Biden’s decision is out of step with voters’ priorities. 

"Most Americans favor keeping Title 42 in place, so I hope we can agree that we should maintain this policy and protect our country from a surge of illegal immigration over the next few months," Tillis said in the press release.

Is it true that "most Americans" want to keep Title 42 in place?

Polling by Morning Consult and Politico suggests Title 42 might be popular, but polling experts say it’s difficult to make declarative statements about the law without more data. A separate poll conducted by an immigrant rights group found support for Biden’s position, but experts said it had its own shortcomings.

Morning Consult poll

To support Tillis’ claim, his office pointed to the Morning Consult poll, which was released April 6. The survey of 2,003 registered voters was conducted between April 1 and 4 and had an unweighted margin of error of plus-minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult, a market research company, reported that 56% of respondents oppose the decision to remove the border controls implemented by the Trump administration. The group has a "B" rating with FiveThirtyEight, a website that conducts opinion poll analysis and grades political pollsters. A "B" rating means the company is generally reliable but its polling methodology isn’t as good as firms with "A" ratings.

Polling experts told PolitiFact North Carolina that, due to the way the question was phrased in that poll, they’re not confident the results offer a clear reflection of people’s beliefs about Title 42 specifically. Here’s how Morning Consult phrased its question about Title 42:

"As you may know, the Trump administration implemented border controls at the U.S.-Mexico border in March 2020 in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. These controls allowed border officials to quickly expel migrants seeking to enter the U.S. for protection. The Biden administration will remove these border controls on May 23rd. Do you support or oppose the Biden administration removing these border controls?"

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The inclusion of Trump and Biden’s names may have caused some voters to skip over consideration of the rule and side with their preferred politician, polling experts said.

David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, said he was "troubled" by the wording of the question "because it does not reference the CDC Title 42 directive, instead making it appear to be more of a political issue between Trump and Biden."

Andrew E. Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center, doubted whether many respondents had much knowledge of the Title 42 policy before they were asked the question. "But they do know Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and it is no surprise that Biden voters support the change and Trump supporters oppose it as the names are cues to how they should respond," he said in an email.

Polling experts noticed a pattern between support for Title 42 and support for Biden more generally. Asked whether they approve or disapprove of the job President Joe Biden is doing, 55% of respondents said they disapprove — almost the same number of respondents who said they want to keep Title 42 in place.

"Since almost everything now is just a surrogate for ‘us’ or ‘them,’ I’d argue that question is essentially another form of asking about presidential approval," Janine Parry, a University of Arkansas political science professor, said in an email.

Smith noted that the poll didn’t ask voters questions to determine if they were familiar with the Title 42 policy. "So there is no way of assessing, in my opinion, what Americans know or don’t know about the original policy, let alone their support for changing it."

PolitiFact NC reached out to Morning Consult seeking comment on the experts’ criticisms, but didn’t receive a response. The group conducted another poll on the issue between April 8-11, after Tillis’ comment. It found that 54% of respondents support Title 42. But, again, the question included references to Biden and Trump.

Another poll

A poll released on Feb. 22 by the National Immigration Law Center’s Justice Fund omitted the names of politicians when asking about Title 42. The poll, which surveyed 802 likely voters, asked if respondents supported or opposed ending "the practice of using COVID as a reason to deny asylum seekers entrance to the U.S." Fifty-two percent said they supported ending the policy.

But experts found issues with that poll too. McLennan noticed that the respondents included a higher percentage of women and people with higher education levels than one would expect. Smith said the Justice Fund poll, like the Morning Consult poll, failed to determine whether people were familiar with the policy before asking about it. Questions from both polls "assume a level of knowledge about the topic that is likely not there, certainly among most people." 

Our ruling

Tillis said "Most Americans favor keeping Title 42 in place."

One poll of 2,003 registered voters found that 56% of them want to keep Title 42 in place. However, polling experts say the phrasing of the question wasn’t ideal in that it invoked the names of Trump and Biden. Another poll, which did not use such names, found that 52% of respondents opposed Title 42.

Tillis’s statement has some truth to it but lacks key information about the issue that would leave a different impression. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Press release by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on April 7, 2022.

Email exchange with Adam Webb, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC)

Press release by the U.S. Homeland Security office on April 1, 2022.

Report from Morning Consult, "Ending Title 42 Is Biden’s Most Unpopular Move Yet," published April 6, 2022.

Report from the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund, "New Poll Shows Majority of Likely Voters Support Bold Action on Immigration," published Feb. 28, 2022.

Story by The Hill, "Majority of voters oppose White House move on Title 42," posted April 13, 2022.

Email exchange with David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.

Email exchange with Andrew E. Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center.

Email exchange with Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll.

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Tillis stakes Title 42 claim on limited data

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