McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — With less than a week before Title 42 is to expire, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and his top leaders spent Tuesday touring the South Texas border planning, learning and preparing for what could be a surge of migrants crossing from Mexico.
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, who used to head forces in the Rio Grande Valley Sector and now leads the agency’s nearly 20,000 agents nationwide, called it a “robust day” in which he and Mayorkas doubled down on various scenarios in case of an influx from across the Rio Grande once Title 42 ends.
“Secretary Mayorkas and I had an opportunity to meet with our frontline officers, agents and our workforce to ensure that we’re prepared for May 23rd and beyond,” Ortiz said.
Title 42 is the public health order that was put in place in March 2020 by the Trump administration forbidding asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. from Mexico or Canada in order to deter the spread of coronavirus. It was implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and allows DHS to immediately expel migrants — often in under two hours from arrest — from U.S. borders.
The Biden administration wants to lift Title 42 on Monday and continue with other enforcement mechanisms for migrants who do not legally qualify to stay in the United States, such as expedited removals under Title 8. However, there have been several court challenges, including a lawsuit by 24 states, which want Title 42 to remain in effect, and a pending ruling by a federal Louisiana court could decide whether Title 42 stays or goes next week.
Mayorkas’ Tuesday was full of messaging and communicating to the American public that the Department of Homeland Security, combined with regional and local partners, is prepared for whatever might occur on the border. And he said that expulsions will continue, although it might take a bit longer and require more workers.
“The border, the laws of the border will be enforced. If one does not qualify for relief, one will be removed.” Mayorkas told reporters during an afternoon news conference Tuesday at an airport hangar in McAllen.
The day began with the media being given rare access to a pre-dawn expulsion flight in which 132 migrants were sent back to Guatemala under Title 42.
“This is what we are doing to address the challenge of the Southwest border. We’re bringing all our resources, talent and extraordinary commitment of the personnel of the Department of Homeland Security to bear,” Mayorkas said.
On Tuesday, DHS released the number of migrants encountered on the southern border in April. This included 71% of all migrants stopped on the Southwest land border were single adults — a total of 166,814, with a majority, or 58%, expelled under Title 42.
In the Rio Grande Valley Sector, the demographic of migrants encountered in April was about 50% single adults, 30% families and 20% unaccompanied minors, officials said Tuesday.
“We are addressing a level of migration that is historic and they are doing an extraordinary job in managing the current flow,” Mayorkas said.
The Tactical Operations Center at the McAllen Border Patrol Station is equipped with dozens of monitors that help to alert Border Patrol agents and National Guard troops of migrants crossing into illegal territory, according to a media pool report.
And law enforcement is beefing up forces in areas like La Joya and Hidalgo, Texas, where large groups of migrants typically cross and where even larger groups could try to come across the Rio Grande if Title 42 ends.
On Tuesday, in response to a question from Border Report, Mayorkas explained that if Title 42 is lifted, those who try to cross into the United States and do not meet certain standards for asylum will be turned back under Title 8.
Title 8 is the long-standing immigration law that lays out the parameters that migrants must meet — such as showing a credible fear of returning to their home country — in order to make a case for staying in the United States.
One of the biggest differences between Title 42 and Title 8 is that under Title 42, DHS has the authority to immediately expel migrants. Under Title 8, migrants are fully processed — allowing them to make their claims for asylum, or to be processed for removal if they don’t qualify — and all of that takes longer.
Migrants sent back under Title 42 “do not have an immigration enforcement removal on their record and they are rarely processed and turned around and repatriated to their country of origin,” Mayorkas said. Under Title 8, however, those sent back will have an enforcement record on the books and if they try to return before a certain period of time they will be sent away.
In order to more quickly process migrants, a new tent processing facility appears to have been built by the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission, Texas, according to a media pool that toured with Mayorkas on Tuesday.
And eight or nine “one-stop” migrant processing centers are being built along the Southwest border, including in Laredo and Eagle Pass, Texas, where several federal agencies will be on hand to quickly process and evaluate migrant claims. U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Committee said $200 million has been set aside for these soft-sided processing facilities to expedite paperwork on migrants.
And starting in June, some asylum officers will be allowed to decide whether the migrants can stay in the country or not — a decision that had previously only been made by U.S. immigration judges. Mayorkas said Tuesday, reiterating a plan he first announced in late April for handling an influx.
The plan also includes:
- Surging law enforcement resources to the border.
- Consequences for unlawful entry into the United States.
- Targeting transnational criminal organizations and human trafficking operations at the border.
- Deterring irregular migration throughout the Western hemisphere by working with other countries on root causes for asylum seekers leaving their homelands.
- Bolstering NGOs that help asylum seekers.
In McAllen, ICE officials say they are prepared to release up to 600 migrants per day to NGOs, such as Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Currently, they are releasing 250 to 350 per day, and most with alternative-to-detention devices, such as ankle monitoring bracelets, or special cellphones that track their whereabouts.
Mayorkas message to migrants thinking of heading North is to not come.
“As the temperature rises seasonally we see the tragedy more of individuals placing their lives in the hands of smugglers who only seek to exploit them for profit,” Mayorkas said. “Do not place your lives in the hands of individuals who only seek to exploit your lives for the sake of profit.”
“We are building a safe, orderly and humane pathways to access the benefits that the law provides, that Congress has passed, but traveling from one country to another in the hands of smugglers only to be met by enforcement authorities in the United States government is not the way to achieve relief,” he said.