The Biden administration is looking into “a whole bunch of things” to avoid a humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border when Title 42 expulsions expire next week, according to the Homeland Security Secretary.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated that the administration is in ongoing talks with the Mexican government, which has played a significant role in every U.S. programme to limit or redirect migrants’ access to the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. He declined to elaborate, citing sensitive bilateral talks.
“We’re aware that Title 42 will expire early next week,” Mayorkas said in El Paso on Tuesday. “We’re also conscious of the fact that we must coordinate with our partners, not just the nonprofit organisations with which we collaborate closely, not just border cities like El Paso, but also our international partners. As a result, we’re moving as quickly as we can.”
Mayorkas visited El Paso last week to receive operational briefings from US Customs and Border Protection officials at a time when the city is receiving record numbers of asylum-seeking migrants.
What exactly is Title 42?
The Biden administration has relied heavily on Title 42 to manage the flow of millions of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border by quickly expelling people, including asylum seekers, to Mexico or countries of origin.
Title 42 is a public health order that allows Customs and Border Protection to deport migrants to Mexico or return them to their home countries in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities. The policy was developed during the Trump administration and was issued by the CDC in March 2020, just as the pandemic began.
In November, a federal judge ruled that the pandemic-era rule violated US asylum law and had to be lifted by December 21.
Mayorkas stated that the Biden administration is looking into expanding a programme that allowed Ukrainian and later Venezuelan asylum seekers to apply for entry into the United States via Mexico City by air. He also stated that the administration is collaborating with Mexico to prevent a repeat of the weekend influx of migrants bused to Juárez.
“What we’re seeing is a hemispheric migration challenge,” Mayorkas explained. “We’ve been communicating with our partners on a bilateral and multilateral basis, because a regional challenge necessitates collaboration and a regional solution.”
Previous programmes aimed at discouraging or reducing asylum claims at the Southwest border relied on Mexico’s cooperation.
As a result of President Donald Trump’s “Migrant Protection Protocols,” asylum seekers were forced to wait in Mexican border cities for their hearings in US courts. The now-defunct programme, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” was contingent on Mexico agreeing to accept migrants of various nationalities.
The Biden administration also slowed the arrival of thousands of Venezuelans at the Southwest border by arranging for Mexico to accept Venezuelans expelled under Title 42. The United States agreed to provide an additional 65,000 work visas to Mexican, Central American, and Haitian workers under the October agreement.
When asked if the administration planned to impose new restrictions on asylum seekers, Mayorkas stated, “There have been numerous discussions about various ideas and how to address the high number of border encounters. There have been no decisions made.”
El Paso is preparing for an influx of migrants.
Through October of fiscal 2022, Customs and Border Protection reported nearly 2.4 million encounters at the Southwest border. More than one million migrants were deported under Title 42, a pandemic-era authority invoked during the Trump administration and continued under President Joe Biden.
El Paso, Texas, is one of many border communities bracing for the end of the policy, and this year has seen Border Patrol release thousands of asylum seekers every week, including hundreds directly to the street outside bus stations in the city’s downtown area. The city and county have established migrant assistance centres, but the costs have quickly risen into the millions, and the federal government has been slow to reimburse the funds spent.
During his two-day visit to El Paso, Mayorkas met with El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, as well as border agents and immigrant advocacy groups.
He stated that the administration is considering El Paso’s request for advance funding to provide humanitarian aid to those who cross the border. Border Patrol has also brought in agents from other agencies to assist with the processing of asylum seekers.
Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, has asked Biden for “more resources… and direct engagement,” including federally operated short-term emergency shelters.
“The extraordinary number of migrants arriving in El Paso on a daily basis has created an unprecedented strain on our community,” she said in a statement. “Our local governments have been stretched as they have been asked to perform functions outside of their normal operations, NGOs are doing their best, and our CBP personnel have been stressed beyond anything they have ever experienced.”
Since October, the county has received nearly 19,000 migrants released by Border Patrol to seek asylum or other legal status in the country, and has provided logistical and other assistance to them.
During a three-month period, the city’s now-closed Migrant Welcome Center assisted approximately 19,000 migrants.