With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.
The pandemic-era “Title 42” authority expired at 11:59PM Eastern Time on May 11. Title 42 allowed U.S. authorities to expel undocumented migrants from the border, often into Mexico, suspending their legal right to ask for asylum in the United States.
Over its 38 months of operation, the Trump and Biden administrations used Title 42 to expel migrants over 2.8 million times. Now, the border will revert to normal immigration law. At the same time, a new rule will block asylum access to non-Mexican migrants who arrive between ports of entry without having been denied asylum in other countries along the way.
WOLA published an analysis piece on May 9 ( also available here in Spanish) laying out 10 facts about Title 42 and the restrictive regime and alternative pathways that will replace it. Rather than repeat that analysis, this week’s Border Update focuses on breaking developments and links to other resources during this consequential week. (We are drafting this on the morning and mid-day of May 11, and as this is one of the top news developments in the United States, it is impossible to be comprehensive.)
Title 42’s end: breaking developments
“It’s going to be chaotic for a while,” President Joe Biden said of the border on May 9. ( Associated Press)
S. border authorities apprehended more than 10,600 migrants on May 9—a single-day record—the Washington Postreported, up from about 8,700 per day over the previous weekend. The New York Timesreported, “On some days this week, more than 11,000 migrants have crossed the southern border illegally, according to internal agency data.”
Overnight reports on social media indicated no rush of migrants to the border as the Title 42 authority expired.
Citing “the Mexican government” and “the federal government,” the Dallas Morning News and CNN reported that “about 155,000 migrants are waiting in northern Mexican border states, many with the goal of crossing into the U.S. to seek political asylum.” On May 10, Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz disputed this figure, telling reporters, according to the Dallas Morning News, that “his intelligence shows there were 60,000 to 65,000 migrants waiting along Mexico’s northern border.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that smugglers are misinforming migrants, telling them that they will be able to cross the border when Title 42 expires.
The Departments of Justice and Homeland Securitypublished arule on May 10 implementing the asylum “transit ban,” making only modest changes from a draft that attracted 51,835 public comments (see WOLA’s March 31 Border Update). CBS News provided an overview of the rule’s main provisions.
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Northern California, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and National Immigrant Justice Center filedan immediate legal challenge to the new rule, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
“The Mexican Government has reiterated its commitment to accepting 30,000 nationals from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua per month who have entered the United States unlawfully between the ports of entry once the Title 42 public health Order lifts,” read a statement from CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller. “Migrants who enter the United States unlawfully by crossing the Southwest Border, and not via a lawful pathway, will be returned to Mexico and may be transported away from Mexico’s northern border to locations in southern Mexico.” ( CBP)
Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke for about an hour on May 9. “They discussed the urgency of effectively reducing crowding in northern Mexico,” and “affirmed” that “they will continue to implement the successful joint initiative which, over four months, achieved a 95 percent drop in border encounters of individuals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela at the U.S.-Mexico border”—an apparent reference to continued removals of those countries’ citizens to Mexico. ( White House)
Mexico issued 30,000 humanitarian visas in April, mainly in the southern border-zone city of Tapachula, giving them temporary documentation making it possible to travel north toward the U.S. border. According to the New York Times, this was more than triple the usual monthly amount. More than 3,000 migrants were lined up on May 8 to obtain documentation outside a Mexican migration agency facility in Tapachula.
The troubled CBP One apptransitioned on May 10 to “a new appointment scheduling system” allowing migrants to appear at land-border ports of entry, the main route available to asylum seekers to evade the new “transit ban.” Migrants continue to find the app’s user experience to be “a mess,” the Texas Tribunereported.
Family unit members released into the U.S. interior will be enrolled in a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program, “Family Expedited Removal Management,” that places them under GPS monitoring, with curfews, and requires them to undergo rapid credible-fear interviews with asylum officers in their cities of destination. “There are consequences for family units,” an ICE official told the Los Angeles Times’s Hamed Aleaziz.
Migrants in Ciudad Juárez were confused about CBP’s standards for who gets expelled and who gets released into the U.S. interior, which appeared random. ( La Verdad)
Mexico plans to send more soldiers, guardsmen, and immigration agents to the Guatemala border and other migration routes in an effort to “stop or slow down U.S.-bound migrants,” a “senior Biden administration official” said. ( CBS News)
Some migrants crossed into El Paso without encountering Border Patrol agents. Earlier in the week, about 3,000 mostly undocumented people were gathered in a 3-block area near the Sacred Heart Church south of the city’s downtown. CBP announced, then began carrying out, a “targeted enforcement effort” in El Paso on May 9 encouraging migrants to turn themselves in, but avoiding religious sites like Sacred Heart. ( Dallas Morning News, Border Report, El Paso Times, Wall Street Journal)
Overall, though, El Paso “is displaying unusual calm,” Alfredo Corchado wrote at the Dallas Morning News. The municipal government’s “migrant crisis dashboard” showed numbers to be elevated, but tying what they were before Title 42’s last expected expiration date in December 2022.
A federal judge in Florida, responding to a suit from the state’s Republican attorney-general, temporarily blocked CBP from reducing overcrowding in custody by carrying out expedited releases of migrants without first issuing court dates. CBP warned that the block will “result in unsafe overcrowding at CBP’s facilities…and risks creating dangerous conditions for Border Patrol agents and migrants.”
More than 100,000 citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela have entered the United States under a two-year humanitarian parole program established in October for a 30,000 people per month from Venezuela, and expanded in January to include the other countries. ( CBS News)
If apprehended between ports of entry, some asylum seekers from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela will get the option of being returned to Mexico to apply for the humanitarian parole program (which requires them to have passports and U.S.-based sponsors). ( Los Angeles Times)
Arrivals of released migrants are straining services in New York and Chicago. (CNN, New York Times)
A bit more detail has emerged about the State Department’s plan to open up “Regional Processing Centers” in Latin American countries. These intend “to direct migrants to lawful pathways early in their journey and well before reaching the southwest border.” The number of centers may eventually reach 100 “at key locations in the Western Hemisphere,” and an online platform will soon be launched for would-be migrants to make appointments. ( DHS)
1,500 active-duty U.S. troops being deployed to the border “will mainly be used to help monitor and watch the border, or do data entry and support, and are ‘not there in any way to be interacting with migrants,’” said Defense Department Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. The active-duty troops are in addition to about 2,500 National Guardsmen on federal duty, and thousands more on state duty in Texas. The first 550 arrived in the El Paso, Texas area on May 10. ( Associated Press, DHS)
Guardsmen on Texas state duty now include a new “Tactical Border Force,” created within the state’s National Guard at the initiative of Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and deployed to El Paso. Abbott also stepped up cargo truck inspections in Brownsville, snarling traffic. ( Houston Chronicle, El Paso Times, Texas Tribune)
The Hill and the Arizona Republic ( twice) looked at the concerned messaging coming from Arizona’s principal Democratic Party figures, like Sen. Mark Kelly, Governor Katie Hobbs, and Rep. Rubén Gallego, a likely candidate for the seat of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I).
The Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives passed a hardline border and migration bill on May 11. The final vote was 219-213, with all Democrats and 2 Republicans voting against. The below graphic lays out some of the many restrictive provisions in H.R. 2, as do summaries from the American Immigration Council and National Immigration Forum. They include a near-total gutting of the right to seek asylum in the United States. More than 140 U.S. organizations, including WOLA, signed a letter opposing it. H.R. 2 is “dead on arrival” in the Senate and the White House has made clear it would veto it.
“At stake is whether the anti-asylum model embodied by Title 42 will truly have been temporary, or whether it will be followed by a permanent set of asylum restrictions and mass deportations that would continue to violate the international human right to seek asylum,” wrote WOLA Mexico Program Director Stephanie Brewer at World Politics Review.
A Washington Postanalysis contrasted the new asylum rule with Joe Biden’s campaign promises to undo Donald Trump’s harshly restrictive migration policies. “The president is personally conflicted by the issue, former aides say… the progressive language in Biden’s immigration platform… has since been removed from his campaign website.”
“Title 42 managed to do what many other policies couldn’t—cut off access to asylum for thousands of people who had fled their homes,” wrote Kate Morrissey at the San Diego Union-Tribune. “With that precedent set, it has opened the door for the Biden administration to bolster its deterrence strategy.”
“Lawmakers in both parties have grown increasingly comfortable with a future in which the decadeslong right to cross America’s border to seek refuge from persecution is no longer sacrosanct,” wrote Michelle Hackman at the Wall Street Journal.
The New York Times’s Eileen Sullivan asked why border authorities still seem so unprepared for a large-scale migrant arrival.
“The hope that the new legal paths opened by the US will end the flows of unauthorized migrants inevitably crashes against the paltry 1,000 new interview slots offered per day,” wrote Eduardo Porter for Bloomberg.
Reuters visited Huehuetoca, a train junction town just north of Mexico City, where as many as 700 people per day have been boarding cargo trains heading to Mexico’s northern border cities. “Many migrants want to reach the border as soon as possible, although they are unsure what the rules will now be.” CNN covered trains’ arrival south of Ciudad Juárez.
Texas Monthly’s Jack Herrera asked, “If every federal, state, and local law enforcement officer assigned to the Texas-Mexico border lined up along that border, Hands Across America–style, how close to one another would they be?” (We won’t spoil it; click for the answer.)
A counter-migration police operation in rural Kinney County, Texas, which lies between Del Rio and Eagle Pass, “offers a lens into the more aggressive tactics some border sheriffs have adopted,” Arelis Hernandez wrote at the Washington Post.
Biden administration officials viewed the experience admitting people fleeing Ukraine in 2022 “to be so effective that a similar model has become the centerpiece of a broader border policy rolling out in earnest,” the Associated Press reported.
Despite the end of Title 42, Janvieve Williams Comrie warned at AfroResistance that “Black migrants will continue to experience ongoing struggles and injustices due to racist immigration policies”as they face disproportionate rates of “detention, extortionate asylum fees, and unjust deportations.”
In Brownsville, Texas, which saw a jump in migration—chiefly from Venezuela—since mid-April, the driver of an SUV plowed through a group of recently released migrants awaiting buses outside a shelter, killing eight people. George Alvarez, a man with a long criminal record appearing to be under the influence of a substance, reportedly shouted insults at the migrants before he was subdued.
Asylum applications before #Mexico’s refugee agency (Mexican Refugee Aid Commission, COMAR) actually slowed a bit, declining to 10,609 in April from 13,293 in March. 48,970 people sought asylum in Mexico’s system during the first 4 months of 2023, a record-breaking pace. (See WOLA’s Mexico asylum infographics here.)
WOLA staff were in Honduras in late April and early May, investigating migration in transit through the country, and U.S. returns of migrants. Listen to a podcast, view a series of photos, and read an essay by former WOLA Executive Director Joy Olson.
Democratic Reps. Juan Vargas (California), Robert García (California), and Delia Ramírez (Illinois) wrote a letter to Border Patrol protesting agents’ recent practice of holding asylum seekers between the border fence’s two rows, for several days at a time, south of San Diego. Some of those stuck between the wall’s layers are staying fed by calling delivery services.
In Texas, Democratic state legislators used procedural tactics to set back a Republican bill that would have created a team of police and deputized citizens to patrol the border. The New York Times published an analysis of the hardline border and migration policies that Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration has pursued.
The Southern Border Communities Coalition argues that the U.S. government’s mistreatment of asylum seekers and other migrants places it in violation of “the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty it ratified in 1992.”
Several top members of Border Patrol leadership spent some of the week in El Paso’s Convention Center for a regular “Border Expo” with border security industry vendors.