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Ask a Journalist Today: What is “Title 42”?


Do the journalists, bloggers, and talking heads who refer endlessly to “Title 42” when speaking or writing about immigration and border issues (usually the U.S. Mexico border) know what Title 42 is? Can those “reporters” cite the exact law? Have they read the so-called “Title 42?”

Saying “Title 42” is about as useful as hearing a radio or podcast host say “it’s Tuesday and it’s 20 minutes past the hour” (which Tuesday and what hour?!), or a subject line that says “Don’t miss today’s meeting!” (“today” has no meaning online, without a date!), or the so-called market reports saying “yesterday, the market ended up 13%” (what market, up from or to what?!). It’s meaningless, which listeners and readers know, but seemingly not the talking heads. Sigh.

Back to “What is Title 42?”

First: For the record, I believe the talking and writing heads are referring to Title 42 of the U.S. Code (aka 42 USC), which is the “Public Health and Welfare” title of the USC. (Note: There are 54 titles in the USC, some positive law, but not all.)

However, we (legal researchers and other readers) need to keep in mind that they (“journalists”) might instead be referring to 42 CFR, which includes public health regulations. Who knows?!

(For extra credit, ask the journalist why Title 42 is in play at all, and not Title 8, the Aliens and Nationality title of the USC.)

Second: It is also not enough just to say “Title 42” for the simple reason that 42 USC is 8,389 pages (as of today). So, repeating the phrase “title 42” as if it meant something to readers is silly and lazy:

For the moment, let’s assume the reference to “Title 42” refers to 42 USC. Now, there are 160 Chapters in Title 42 AND 18,501 sections (aka §§), so which of these 18,501 sections is relevant, assuming of course that a yet to be codified section of USC isn’t in play. (You did notice that the official USC publication is several years behind — but you can find newly enacted laws … sorry. That lesson should be left for another time.)

Third: We have also learned, from various talking (and writing) heads, that “Title 42” likely refers to one or more of these sections of Title 42:

§ 262. Regulation of biological products (I found a website that said this section, but I’m not sure), or
§263. Preparation of biological products by Service (doesn’t make sense, or does it?) or
§ 264. Regulations to control communicable diseases (possibly?) or
§ 265. Suspension of entries and imports from designated places to prevent spread of communicable diseases? (Also possible, but who knows?!)

Fourth: The upshot for you the reader is that you have to Ask the Journalist! There is enough wrong or incomplete information floating about in our so-called “Information Age,” which is anything but. The journalist who says or writes “Title 42”  should be able to answer or find the answer to your question – and the best of them include their email and social media addresses in their articles so you can easily ask.

Fifth: As for the journalists, please don’t be a Talking Head, a yakety yak or blah blah blah or a transcriptionist journalist / writer. Do your homework. Do your job. Take a class in legal research. Enroll in a legal studies or paralegal program for journalists and other professionals who want to master their own crafts and want to know about sources of the law and legal citation. At the very least, ask a lawyer or a law librarian or a paralegal. You can find trained and experienced law librarians in law schools, public law libraries, law firms, paralegal program libraries, and maybe even among your colleagues.

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