Migrant Influx Overwhelms Southern Border as Title 42 Winds Down

Migrant Influx Overwhelms Southern Border as Title 42 Winds Down
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WASHINGTON—Title 42, the pandemic-era border measure that for three years has served as a blunt border-enforcement tool for two successive administrations, is set to end on Thursday night.

The policy, introduced in March 2020 by former President Donald Trump, allows Border Patrol agents to swiftly expel migrants back to Mexico even if they ask for asylum. Though the policy has in some ways resulted in increasing illegal border crossings, it still served in the eyes of the Border Patrol and many politicians as a reasonably effective tool to deter asylum seekers. 

For the past decade, migrants seeking asylum have posed the most complex challenge at the border and it has become one of the most dominant political dilemmas of President Biden’s time in office. 

Republicans and some moderate Democrats have decried Mr. Biden’s implementation of it, calling it too lax, and have compared lifting the policy with hanging an “open” sign at the border. Meanwhile, Democrats to Mr. Biden’s left have rebuked his continued use of the tool, calling it cruel and xenophobic.

Even in the days before its expiration, there was a surge of migrants crossing into the U.S., confused about what shifting border policies would mean for their ability to remain in the country. The Border Patrol made more than 10,000 migrant arrests on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter, rivaling previous daily records.

The migrants are most often coming from countries like Venezuela or Cuba, where government repression and economic crises have sent people fleeing for freedom and opportunity.

That surge had overwhelmed the Border Patrol, leading agents to release large numbers of migrants into border cities to reduce overcrowding at detention centers, and has sent cities from El Paso to New York scrambling to prepare for new arrivals.

Even so, Biden administration officials have long worried that lifting Title 42 could result in an even larger surge, since the policy has become so publicly associated with rapid border expulsions. Still, it took more than two years to land on an approach, over which several more liberal administration officials resigned in protest.

This week, the administration rolled out a new border strategy, which closely resembles Title 42, that it hopes will quickly stem the current surge. The strategy relies on a series of carrots and sticks aimed at redirecting migrants away from the border into new legal channels that the administration has set up.

At its core, the administration is reviving a Trump-era policy commonly known as the transit ban, which makes migrants who cross into the U.S. without permission ineligible for asylum—and therefore quickly deportable—if they didn’t apply in another country that they entered first. Using that ban, the administration plans to quickly deport most migrants who enter the U.S. illegally either to their home countries—or in the case of countries who won’t work with the U.S. like Venezuela or Nicaragua—back to Mexico.

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