Officials are bracing for an initial influx of thousands of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border when the Trump administration-era Title 42 restriction is scheduled to end later this month.
Immigration experts say the move could trigger a sudden surge in asylum-seeking migrants being released by federal immigration authorities in communities in border states.
Title 42 was first invoked under President Donald Trump's administration in March 2020 and has continued to be enforced by the Biden administration as a tool to mitigate flows of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. The pandemic-era restriction allows border officials to swiftly expel migrants while closing official ports of entry for asylum seekers.
Here's what you should know.
Why Title 42 could be ending
On Nov. 15, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., vacated the policy and gave the Biden administration five weeks to prepare for the end of the restriction.
The Biden administration Wednesday appealed Sullivan's order, focusing on the authority of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue orders regulating migration. It appeared the government was still planning to meet the Dec. 21 deadline to end the use of Title 42.
Title 42 has been used to expel migrants more than 2.4 million times since its implementation and has bottled up tens of thousands of migrants in Mexican border cities who are waiting to request asylum in the United States.
Border Patrol 'unprepared' for surge of migrants
Roughly 44,700 people are on waitlists in 10 Mexican border cities awaiting their opportunity to ask for asylum, according to a November 2022 report from the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin.
The number of asylum seekers from countries that have long been subject to Title 42 expulsions — including Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti and Venezuela — are expected especially to increase, experts say.
Migration flows, however, are projected to level out and stabilize after the initial surge of numbers in the first few months after the restriction’s end.
“There will be at least a short-term increase in the number of encounters after December because migrants will think that after Title 42, they will have easier access to get into the United States and seek asylum,” said Ariel Ruiz Soto, policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
The number of migrants Border Patrol agents must process will “likely be double or greater” once Title 42 is lifted, placing further strain on the agency, according to a September U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report.
Border Patrol report: Border Patrol unprepared for 'double' the migrants when pandemic restrictions end
The report found that Border Patrol is “unprepared” to meet the increase in processing and placement burdens, possibly resulting in overcrowding and longer detention times in detention centers.
How will the Biden administration process migrants?
Once Title 42 is lifted, the Biden administration plans to fully revert processing of migrants to the Title 8 authority of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Procedures under Title 8 have historically been used to process migrants at the border and were standard practice before the pandemic.
“Unwinding (Title 42) is really just returning to normal processing under the law,” said Chelsea Sachau, managing attorney of the Border Action Team at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project.
“It's just the government doing what it was doing for years before the pandemic occurred.”
Under Title 8, migrants are processed and either can be removed from the country, placed in immigration detention or released with a notice to appear in immigration court later. U.S. immigration courts already have a 1.9 million case backlog, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
What is Title 42? How does it work?
Title 42 is a rarely used section of the U.S. Code dating back to 1944 that relates to public health and welfare. Under section 265 of the code, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is allowed to prohibit the entry of non-citizens into the country if they believe there’s a “serious danger” of the introduction of communicable disease into the United States.
Part of the reasoning for invoking Title 42 was to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in immigration facilities at the onset of the pandemic.
For nearly three years, the policy has been used to rapidly expel migrants and asylum seekers to Mexico or their home countries. Only migrants from Mexico, Venezuela and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador can be returned to Mexico under Title 42.
Immigration advocates applaud Title 42 termination
Migrants have decried Title 42 as it has impeded their ability to seek asylum while they’re fleeing violence, threats and economic instability in their home countries. Advocates have also criticized the policy that has forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexican border communities for months, facing discrimination and dangerous conditions.
Since January 2021, Human Rights First has documented at least 10,318 reports of “kidnapping, murder, torture, rape, and other violent attacks” against migrants expelled to Mexico under Title 42.
Joanna Williams, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora, one of the busiest hubs for migrants waiting to request asylum along the Arizona-Mexico border, celebrated the decision to end Title 42. The KBI migrant shelter has housed numerous asylum seekers fleeing organized crime and danger who are forced to wait in the border community under Title 42.
“We are confident that we can come together as communities and a society to provide welcome and a just process for people who have been stranded at the border by Title 42 and we look forward to the opportunity to continue to stretch our capacity to love our neighbors,” Williams said in a written news release.
Have a news tip or story idea about the border and its communities? Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with him on Twitter @joseicastaneda.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: US-Mexico border could see thousands of migrants with end of Title 42