Pandemic-Era Border Policy Expires Amid Migrant Surge

Pandemic-Era Border Policy Expires Amid Migrant Surge
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The pandemic-era border measure used to quickly expel asylum seekers ended late Thursday with thousands of migrants crossing into the U.S. before midnight in anticipation of harsher immigration rules.

There were no immediate reports of a rush of migrants at legal ports of entry or elsewhere, which authorities feared would occur right after the expiration of Title 42. Under the public-health rule, U.S. authorities could send migrants who crossed the border illegally back to Mexico before they could request asylum.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, thousands of migrants sought to enter the U.S. in recent days before the most significant change in migration rules since early in the pandemic.

“People who don’t use available lawful pathways to enter the U.S. now face tougher consequences,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Thursday.

This week, hundreds of migrants camped under the border fence in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, shivering in the cold at night and risking dehydration under the scorching midday sun. Others crammed into full migrant shelters before crossing the Rio Grande in the dangerous cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, the sites of frequent shootouts between warring drug cartels that control the migrant smuggling business in the Mexican Gulf state of Tamaulipas.

Title 42, which was introduced in March 2020 by the Trump administration, encouraged some border crossings as migrants who were expelled under the rule could cross again without legal consequences. But in the eyes of the Border Patrol and many politicians, it helped to deter asylum seekers. In recent years, the U.S. has grappled with a surge in migrants from Latin America, most of them fleeing poverty, violence and political repression.

Under new rules set up by the Biden administration, migrants crossing illegally are, with few exceptions, barred from requesting asylum. They also face deportation to Mexico or their country of origin, and a five-year ban on re-entry. Anyone caught trying to enter the country again could face criminal charges and prison time. Appointments to make asylum requests must be booked using an online application.

Throngs of migrants tried to enter the U.S. this week before the policy change. Near El Paso, close to 1,000 asylum seekers, including many children and toddlers, were camped out on the U.S. side of the border next to a 30-foot high steel fence after crossing the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez.

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