Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
CIUDAD JUÃREZ – For Rosa Elida Portillo, it’s a rare victory in a long journey of rejections.
The Biden administration is poised later this month to end Title 42 – the policy allowing U.S. border officials to quickly eject from this country any migrating person due to the pandemic. And while the plan to end Title 42 is encountering fierce legal challenges, migrants are optimistic the administration will prevail and that there will be one less barrier for them.
Portillo, a 37-year-old woman from Honduras, stood in a crowded room with other migrants at the Esperanza Para Todos migrant shelter in the Puerto Anapra neighborhood of Ciuidad Juárez. She said she was glad to hear Title 42 is expected to end, and recounted her expulsion from El Paso under that policy nearly a year ago.
“They didn’t want to listen to what I had to say,” she said about U.S. Border Patrol agents she encountered. “They said because of that article (Title 42) I could not enter. They didn’t want to know anything about my case … no questions, no conversation, nothing. They made me come back, and I got so sick, so sick with grief. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. America does not want us. But the luck of God is coming.”
So far this fiscal year, more than a million people have been prohibited from entering the United States through the southern border using one of three immigration levers.
Sometimes they are stopped by Migrant Protection Protocols, which require asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while awaiting immigration hearings; other times it is a U.S. Border Patrol agent invoking Title 8, which is the standard expulsion mechanism of the U.S. immigration system.
But since March 2020, it has most likely been through Title 42 public health policy, which is used as a way of curbing the spread of COVID-19.
In its announcement last month about ending Title 42, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated: “After considering current public health conditions and an increased availability of tools to fight COVID-19 … the CDC director has determined that an Order suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary.”
The last day of Title 42 is expected to be May 23.
The announcement of the lifting of Title 42 pleased many on the left who had long argued that it denied rights afforded by U.S. law to allow people from other countries to petition for asylum in the United States. But Republicans – and some centrist Democrats – have said they are concerned about a spike in the already unprecedented number of people trying to enter the United States through the southern border.
“If Title 42 is lifted, a surge of illegal immigration will hit our border, dwarfing what is happening today, which has reached crisis numbers already,” said U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a New Mexico Republican, in a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, shortly after plans to lift Title 42 were made public.
A federal judge in Louisiana also prohibited the Biden administration from pursuing any phasing out of Title 42 before May 23, and 20 states have asked the court to intervene and stop the lifting of that policy.
As migrants are pushed back from entering the United States – whether through Title 42, MPP or Title 8 – they end up in Mexican border communities like Juárez, awaiting immigration court hearings or planning their next attempt to enter this country.
But Title 42, with the sweeping discretion it gives front line border agents, is the policy responsible for most expulsions.
Rodrigo Olvera Ledesma, director of the Esperanza Para Todos migrant shelter in Juárez, has seen firsthand the impact of Title 42 on the migration process.
“This lady had to return because of Title 42. Her also, from Title 42, and him, too,” he said as he scanned a group of people from Mexico and a string of other countries who are now living in his shelter. The public health policy thwarted their attempt to enter the United States.
Since its enactment in March 2020, Title 42 has resulted in 1.81 million expulsions, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports. Out of that total, more than 60% – 1.09 million – have been Mexican nationals. Central Americans and Haitians account for most other expulsions, the records show.
In New Mexico, CBP reports show that 195,507 people were removed from the state by the initiative.
Tony Payan, director of Rice University’s Center for the United States and Mexico, said that while immigration encounters have been very high over the past several years, the uproar over the lifting of Title 42 “is unwarranted.”
“Title 42 is not needed. You have everything in the law required to keep migrants in Mexico, and process them under Title 8 and MPP. You don’t need anything else. So I don’t understand the manufactured panic about ending Title 42,” he said.
Migrant Protection Protocols, a “Remain in Mexico” program that requires asylum-seekers to await their U.S. immigration hearings in Mexico, from January 2020 to March 2022 were responsible for 443,326 people apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol at the southwest border being sent to Mexico.
Jose Salgado, who migrated to the U.S. border from Nicaragua two months ago, is among MPP expulsions. Currently living in the Casa del Migrante in Juárez, he said he has not seen any Title 42 expulsions at that shelter.
“We are here because of MPP, and most of us are from Nicaragua. But there are also Colombians and Venezuelans. There’s hardly anyone from Title 42 here,” he said.
Sunland Park sits across the border from the Anapra neighborhood of Juárez and consistently has among the highest migrant encounters of the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which runs from the tip of Texas up to Albuquerque.
Mayor Javier Perea, now in his third term, said he doesn’t expect the lifting of Title 42 to change much of the migration flow through his community.
“Even with Title 42, we’ve seen a continuous influx of migrants into the area. What is generally done is people get stopped, people get caught, and they are sent immediately back across the border. And then they circle back again. So I don’t think it is as effective as a lot of people think it is,” he said.