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DHS Secretary reaffirms feds will use ‘expedited removal’ of migrants when health order expires

Border Patrol officers patrol the Rio Grande on an airboat in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Dec. 19, 2022.
Jordan Vonderhaar
Border Patrol officers patrol the Rio Grande on an airboat in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Dec. 19, 2022.

The Biden administration doubled down Friday on its intent to rapidly deport migrants who cross the border illegally even after next week’s expiration of a pandemic-era rule allowing for rapid expulsions.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during a visit to Texas that the administration also plans to enforce a ban on asylum for migrants who did not seek protection in another country before trying to enter the United States.

Mayorkas’ comments came as the southern border is experiencing a continued spike in the number of migrants, most of them asylum seekers, who have crossed the Rio Grande ahead of next week’s expiration of Title 42. The was policy was initiated in March 2020 by the Trump administration and allows migrants to be rapidly expelled from the U.S. without being able to apply for asylum.

“We will be using our expedited removal authorities under Title 8 of the United States Code that allows us to remove individuals very quickly,” Mayorkas said during a news conference in Brownsville, referring to the section of laws that pertain to federal immigration policies.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement added to the message in a Friday afternoon tweet warning migrants of the possible consequences for entering the country illegally.

“Unlike Title 42, Title 8 laws impose immigration and criminal consequences for those who cross the border illegally including: final orders of removal deportation, a five-year bar on reentry and possible criminal prosecution if you attempt to re-enter,” read the tweet.

The statement builds on last month’s announcement that the administration would establish migrant processing centers in Latin America to “reduce irregular migration” and facilitate legal pathways for travel. Applicants can make appointments there for processing and possible approval of legal pathways to enter the U.S., Canada or Spain. But the new policy includes that migrants who don’t choose that option will likely be punished.

Mayorkas also said that a policy proposal posted to the Federal Register earlier this year will be finalized ahead of Title 42 ending next week. In February, the White House said it would ban most asylum seekers from applying for relief if they didn’t seek status in another country first.

“We will, by May 11th, finalize the rule that we published in a proposed format that provides that individuals who do not access our lawful pathways will be presumed to be ineligible for asylum and will have a higher burden of proof to overcome that presumption of ineligibility,” said Mayorkas.

Immigrant rights groups have blasted the administration for resurrecting what they’ve called Trump-era policies that keep migrants from exercising their legal right to asylum. But the Biden administration has repeatedly said that any permanent solution to the border crisis must come from the U.S. Congress, which has been reluctant to act on meaningful immigration reform.

It’s a sentiment Mayorkas repeated Friday.

“Fundamentally, we are working within a broken immigration system that for decades has been in dire need of reform. That is a fact about which everyone agrees,” he said. “And we urge Congress to fix our broken immigration system. And until then, we will do everything that we can within our authorities to provide an orderly and safe pathway for individuals who qualify for relief under the laws of the United States of America.”

The lead up to Title 42’s expiration prompted the cities of El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville to issue emergency or disaster declarations. The declarations allow those city government to draw down federal funds to help provide shelter and other resources to communities struggling with the influx of migrants. On Friday, the DHS announced an additional $332.5 million for local communities.

But those resources come with strings as they can’t be used to help individuals who crossed the border by evading Border Patrol.

During an appearance on MSNBC Friday. U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said those restrictions are, in part, why there are so many migrants camped out on the streets of downtown El Paso. There are currently hundreds of migrants sleeping on sidewalks or in makeshift tents near Sacred Heart Church.

“We are not allowed to use FEMA funds or federal funds to provide emergency shelter for those vulnerable souls who are around the church because they are undocumented,” she said. “So, with that prohibition, we are having to look to private sources of funding, philanthropic sources to try to find enough money to provide emergency shelter for them.”

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

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Julián Aguilar