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US Immigration Officials Announce Border Plans as End of Title 42 Nears

Migrants stand near the border wall after crossing the Rio Bravo river with the intention of turning themselves in to the U.S. Border Patrol agents, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 25, 2023.
Migrants stand near the border wall after crossing the Rio Bravo river with the intention of turning themselves in to the U.S. Border Patrol agents, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 25, 2023.

The Biden administration on Thursday announced new measures to manage the flow of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border as the end of a pandemic-era policy known as Title 42 nears.

In a briefing with reporters, administration officials said they are opening immigration processing centers in Latin America to provide migrants easier access to legal pathways to the U.S., including the refugee admissions resettlement program, and prescreening for other programs such as parole, family reunification or existing labor pathways.

"U.S. criteria for refugee resettlement will not change. However, through this expanded effort, we expect to identify more eligible individuals," said one senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as is common in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) briefings. "Our priority in the region continues to be to focus on regularization and integration efforts."

At the new migration processing centers, U.S. consular officers will interview applicants to determine if there is a legal way for them to travel to the United States.

Colombia and Guatemala will host the first centers, and others are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, according to U.S. officials in the briefing.

Centers designed to slow migration

The main goal is to slow and reduce migration to the southern border, specifically once Title 42 is lifted on May 11. The public health policy allowed U.S. immigration officials to quickly expel migrants to their country of origin or Mexican border towns and deny them a chance at asylum. Title 42 was implemented in March 2020; since then, migrants have been expelled more than 2.7 million times.

"I think everybody knows Title 42 was a temporary pandemic-era public health measure. … Just like all extraordinary pandemic-era measures Title 42 is coming to an end because the national public health emergency is ending," a Biden official told reporters during the briefing.

Other efforts to slow migration at the border include access to the CBP One mobile application, which allows migrants in central and northern Mexico to schedule an appointment to present themselves at a port of entry rather than trying to enter the country without authorization. Additional appointments will be available in the coming weeks, an official said.

DHS is also creating new family reunification parole processes for people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia while continuing the existing family reunification parole processes for those from Cuba and Haiti.

U.S. officials said everyone who comes through one of these centers will be vetted, and only those with approved family-based petitions will be allowed to travel to the United States.

As the Biden administration has planned for the end of Title 42, Republicans in Congress have held a series of hearings that portrayed the border as open and in a state of crisis. They have opposed ending Title 42 as a way to restrict immigration.

This week House Republicans released their own immigration plan, the Border Reinforcement Act of 2023, which would expand migrant family detention, tighten the process to verify the documentation of every immigrant worker, require migrants to seek asylum at specific ports of entry, and give a border patrol officer the power to block any foreign citizen from entering the U.S. if it "is necessary in order to achieve operational control over the border."

Some Democrats have said the bill has no chance of becoming law.

A hemispheric challenge

During a separate Thursday press briefing, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the migration situation as a hemispheric challenge that demands hemispheric solutions.

"Working with our neighbors in the region, we can and will reduce the number of migrants who reach our southern border," Mayorkas said. "The regional processing centers announced today will be a critical addition to the programs and processes DHS has in place for qualifying individuals to obtain authorization to enter the United States before arriving at our borders."

U.S. immigration officials estimate that starting in May, migrant arrivals could increase to 10,000 to 13,000 a day from the current 5,000 to 8,000 along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Through the new regional centers, Mayorkas said he expected between 5,000 to 6,000 cases to be processed monthly.

It remains to be seen if these new efforts will slow the flow of migrants who leave their countries for economic and political reasons. Blinken said the new approaches are expected to make migration more safe, orderly and humane.

"The United States is working with our partners in the region on migration, so as to take among other things pressure off our borders by giving people alternatives to making a hazardous journey to seek asylum in the United States," he said in the briefing. "Of course, fundamentally, we're working to tackle the root causes of migration."

Blinken praised countries such as Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil that have welcomed refugees and given temporary status to those fleeing violence or economic strife.

"Colombia, for example, has given 10-year temporary protected status to approximately 2.5 million Venezuelans, allowing them to work, to study, to access public services. Ecuador, Costa Rica and Belize are also undertaking similar efforts to regularize migrants from Venezuela and Nicaragua, as well as Peru," Blinken added.

Title 8 authority

U.S. immigration officials also said that after May 11, all migrants who make the dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border will be processed under the Title 8 immigration authority.

"This is a long-standing immigration enforcement authority that multiple administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, have used to process individuals. It carries stiff consequences for irregular migration, including at least a five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution for repeated attempts to cross unlawfully," Mayorkas said.

Title 8 is the federal code of laws dealing with immigration, and those arriving at the border without documents or trying to enter between ports of entry can be removed without their cases being decided by an immigration court.

Mayorkas said they will process eligible single adults for expedited removal while they are in U.S. immigration facilities. In the meantime, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials will be conducting credible-fear interviews.

The credible-fear interview is an initial screening where immigrants must show there is a compelling chance they will be persecuted or can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country.

"We have expanded our holding capacity and set up equipment and procedures so that individuals have the ability to access counsel," Mayorkas said.

But those who can't establish a legal basis to remain in the United States will be quickly removed through a process known as expedited removal under Title 8 authority.

If a migrant wants to claim asylum, however, an asylum officer interviews them before removal, deportation or the granting of authorization to enter the U.S. to continue the asylum process.

Biden officials also said they do not plan to detain families.

Mayorkas said the new measures do not take the place of congressional action, and he urged Congress to pass immigration reform and allow for the resources to manage the regional migration challenge.

"We call on Congress to provide the resources we need to continue our work," he said. "We stand ready to work with Congress to pass desperately needed reform to our immigration and asylum system."