Top officials at the Department of Homeland Security plan to inform Mexico that a controversial Trump-era border policy implemented during the pandemic could end as soon as April, which could lead to an increase in migrants arriving at the border and strain on resources, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The existence of such a plan, revealed in the draft document, deals with the fallout of two federal court orders on the border policy, known as Title 42, by the Biden administration, which has drawn condemnation from Senate Democrats and immigrant advocates. It has long been argued that it is illegal.
Former President Donald Trump first cited Title 42 as a way to contain the coronavirus by deporting immigrants at the border and restricting access to the US asylum system. Some immigrants are quickly expelled to Mexico and others are sent back to their home countries. President Joe Biden has continued to enforce the policy amid court challenges, deporting more than 1 million people at the border in the process.
But a pair of court rulings — including one where a judge ordered immigrant children to be turned back at the border — could spell the end of the policy, which is already evolving with the federal response to the epidemic inside the US. A senior DHS official told BuzzFeed News that the agency is planning to end Title 42. And a draft document obtained by BuzzFeed News refers to the department’s ongoing “contingency plan” for when that happens. On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the administration was “leaning” toward ending Title 42.
In the meantime, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is expected to meet with Mexican officials next week.
DHS officials in particular plan to stress to Mexico that if Title 42 is no longer in place, the agency will have to return to processing immigrants crossing the border without authorization through normal, pre-COVID practices, which would allow them to seek asylum and protection within the US. Before Title 42, immigrants apprehended at the border could apply for asylum and have their claims evaluated to determine whether they could remain in the country to pursue their cases.
But those prepandemic practices could “severely deplete” border resources and lead to a challenging humanitarian situation in northern Mexico, the draft DHS document warned. Department officials are concerned about “historically and untimely high” numbers of migrants crossing the border without permission.
The use of Title 42 has given the Biden administration more than a year to consider changes to border policies and the asylum system. But it remains to be seen whether any major changes will be in place when Title 42 goes away. Administration officials are eager to implement a plan that would dramatically reshape how asylum-seekers are processed to address a massive backlog of immigration court cases, cutting wait times for some applicants to years. The plan, which has yet to be released in its final version, would shift the authority to decide whether certain immigrants encountered at the border are granted asylum from immigration judges to asylum officers.