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Biden administration gears up for migrant surge

Officials believe the lifting on Thursday of Title 42—which gave authorities health emergency powers—will spur a flood of migrants on the southern border trying to enter the U.S.
FILE - Migrants walk on a dirt road along the Rio Grande in Mission, Texas, on March 23, 2021, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Migrants walk on a dirt road along the Rio Grande in Mission, Texas, on March 23, 2021, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo: The Associated Press

The Biden administration is preparing for a possible surge of migrants flocking to the southern border after Title 42 is lifted this Thursday. It has announced that it will send 1,500 troops to the area for 90 days and that it will set up a series of processing centers in Central American countries where migrants can apply for asylum to the United States.

Title 42 is part of the Public Health Service Act of 1944 that has allowed the U.S. to quickly prevent migrants from entry to the country based on health issues.   

“Title 42 allowed the Biden administration to remove migrants in an expedited way because of a health emergency, but now that will end because the health emergency has ended,” said Kunal Parker, professor of law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar at the University of Miami School of Law. “But this does not mean that we have open borders.”

Parker said that prior to the establishment of Title 42, there were other laws —including Title 8—that controlled migrant crossings. The law does allow for the expedited removal of those who are deemed inadmissible. Parker said the existing structures that authorized border control prior to the coronavirus pandemic remain in place.

Political strife, violence, economic hardships, and the effects of the pandemic are some of the factors that have pushed thousands to leave their counties and head to the U.S. southern border.  

The number of encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border have soared, news reports said. In its latest available monthly data report, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported that 206,239 such encounters took place in November 2022.

CNN reported that detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border have surpassed capacity as a growing number cross into the United States. Border towns along the southern border have seen an upsurge, news accounts reported.

“These migrants are fleeing really terrible situations, so they have lots of incentives to keep trying to enter the U.S.,” said Parker. The Biden administration has tried to ease the flow by establishing certain measures that would lead to a more orderly process for migration.

In January, the administration announced that migrants who wished to come to the U.S. must apply from their home country, or from another country where they are residing for safety, before traveling to the U.S. and must have a U.S. sponsor. It launched a phone app to aid in this process. 

The administration also set up humanitarian parole programs for Haitians, Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans that will allow them entry into the country if they have a U.S. sponsor.

One of the outcomes of quickly expelling migrants under Title 42 has been that it increased recidivism, according to Parker.

“What the Biden administration is hoping to achieve by creating this app and other parole programs is to reduce the illegal crossing recidivism,” he said. “It means that they have accommodated for people to get to the border in a different way.”

The latest measures established by the administration include increasing the number of border agents, sending troops to carry out administrative duties in anticipation of a surge, and establishing processing centers in Guatemala and Colombia where migrants can apply legally for entry into the U.S. Other centers will open in the near future, administration officials stated.

The U.S. also has come to an agreement with Mexico. That country will accept migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and Nicaragua who are turned away at the border. 

“The administration has tried to soften the impact of the removal of Title 42,” said Parker. “We should not see the lifting of this order as a license to panic.”