EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Immigrant advocates who have been preparing to assist additional asylum-seekers once they’re again allowed to apply at ports of entry, suddenly don’t know what to expect on May 23.
That’s the day the controversial Title 42 public health border policy border agents have been using for two years to swiftly expel unauthorized migrants is set to expire. But three states sued to stop the Biden administration from terminating the order. A federal judge in Louisiana granted them a two-week injunction that expires next week; a permanent injunction would send the case to court, likely past May 23.
“I’m not feeling optimistic that we are going to see any significant changes on May 23rd, not only with the political pushback that I’m witnessing but also with court challenges,” said Linda Corchado, interim executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “It seems that day isn’t going to come with any good news for asylum-seekers.”
The non-governmental organizations continue to prepare for a considerable uptick in migration flows at the southern border before the end of the month. But questions linger and the Biden administration is sharing information with them piecemeal.
Will asylum-seekers be directed to apply online instead of showing up at ports of entry, the way those in the Migrant Protection Protocols program were instructed to do at the start of the Biden administration?
Are border agencies preparing to do in-transit processing of newly arrived migrants, interviewing them and handing out Notices to Appear to eligible individuals on buses from remote areas to Border Patrol stations in the cities?
Corchado said the federal government is considering an in-transit processing pilot program from Del Rio to Laredo, Texas.
Will the Mexican National Guard administer COVID-19 vaccines to individuals green-lighted by the U.S. government to approach ports of entry?
“The Mexican National Guard has begun a vaccination program (for) migrants. That is really disturbing to us because so many of our clients complain about terrible incidents and encounters they’ve had with the Mexican National Guard,” Corchado said. “They’ve been victims of rape, kidnapping, robbery. So now a policy like this is forcing them to encounter their own perpetrators.”
Other advocates worry the Biden administration will again fill up migrant detention centers on the one hand, and overburden nonprofits with the expected tens or hundreds of thousands who will be released.
“That is not a solution. This idea that NGOs and communities and organizations are going to sustain a system that is broken […] this idea that has NGOs and communities doing the work is fundamentally wrong,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “That doesn’t mean NGOs shouldn’t be supportive, I think they will be supportive, but you can’t throw the responsibility to NGOs that are already overwhelmed.”
Garcia and other advocates were pushing Biden to set up “welcoming centers” to process the migrants but were told that’s not going to happen.
“We don’t need military buildup, detention facilities. We needed something else because that doesn’t reflect the reality of the border,” Garcia said in a recent forum. “We proposed welcoming centers, a new Ellis Island not tied to detention, not tied to enforcement, but (instead) Welcoming Centers funded by the government to provide unaccompanied minors and families resources like housing, health care, education, legal support for them to go through the process of migrating to the United States. That kind of infrastructure we don’t have.”
Other nonprofit officials admit the Biden administration is yet to share many details with them at this late stage of the game of how it plans to handle the rollback. But they’re confident they will be able to handle the post-May 23 migrant uptick.
“We know there will be more reception/hospitality sites coming online. We know the Office of Emergency Management is doing its own contingency planning through the city and the county,” said Marisa Limon Garza, deputy director of El Paso’s Hope Border Institute. “We are looking at all resources we may have, working closely with the federal government, our local Border Patrol chief and Office of Field Operations leader, so we are doing this in a concerted effort.”
HBI is part of the Frontera Welcome Coalition and works closely with Annunciation House, which provides short-term housing for migrants released by Border Patrol who typically take a bus or an airplane to join relatives in the interior of the United States.
“There is still information we do not have access to from the federal government about how exactly things will look in practice on May 23, but we are in close communication and sharing our ideal scenarios with them and thinking about what it will take to make this process as smooth and orderly as possible,” Limon said.
The political “headwinds” advocates fear could render May 23 moot are brewing on Capitol Hill.
Republicans and some Democrats are ramping up concerns that the country will lose control of its borders if Biden lifts Title 42 without a plan in place to handle the expected migrant overflow
“The world is watching as our borders are opening more and more by the minute, especially for cartels and other bad actors,” U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, who represents a border district stretching from El Paso to Uvalde, said while hosting a delegation of GOP lawmakers at Eagle Pass recently.
“This message of lifting Title 42 is going to go straight to the criminal organizations,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Fox News. “What we are seeing are large numbers coming in and the messages are going out to the smugglers that on May 23rd you can go ahead and come in.”
Meantime, migrant shelters in Mexican border cities like Juarez continue to operate at near-capacity with new migrants arriving every day. And tension is building, with a group of migrants recently resisting expulsion to Mexico at an El Paso port of entry.