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US to expand migrant processing abroad after Title 42 policy ends

Officials expect a spike in migration after pandemic-era directive lifts, potentially 10,000 border crossings daily

Venezuelan migrants try to cross the border by foot from Mexico to the United States on Tuesday in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Venezuelan migrants try to cross the border by foot from Mexico to the United States on Tuesday in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (David Peinado/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Biden administration will create additional legal migration pathways and open processing centers abroad as part of efforts to prepare for an expected spike in migration after pandemic-era border controls end next month, top officials said Thursday.

The administration’s migration programs aim to discourage migrants from journeying by land to the U.S.-Mexico border and crossing in between ports of entry once the so-called Title 42 border policy lifts on May 11.

The Title 42 policy, which will expire with the COVID-19 public health emergency, has for more than three years allowed border agents to turn back migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border without considering their asylum claims. The Department of Homeland Security has predicted that border agents could see upward of 10,000 border crossings daily once the public health restrictions end.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced the changes together at a press conference on Thursday.

Blinken called the regional processing centers — which will be opened in South and Central America to prescreen migrants for eligibility for protection — a “new and innovative approach” and a “hugely important step to prevent people from making the dangerous journey to the border by providing a much safer legal option.”

Still, Mayorkas called on Congress to provide the department with more resources for border operations and to pass legislation to revise the nation’s asylum laws.

The Homeland Security chief said the department had notified Congress that it intends to reprogram already allocated funds “to support other emerging requirements across DHS.”

Mayorkas also said the diverted funds “will not meet our longer-term needs for securing our border and enforcing our laws,” which hints at a potential future request for supplemental border funding.

Processing centers

The administration will open regional processing centers in Guatemala and Colombia where migrants hoping to come to the U.S. could be prescreened before making the journey to the border to evaluate their eligibility for various forms of protection, according to the secretaries.

Mayorkas said the U.S. is “in discussions with other countries to expand the regional processing centers” to other locations as well.

At the centers, foreign citizens will first be screened to evaluate their eligibility for the refugee resettlement program. If they do not qualify, they will be considered for other temporary humanitarian programs.

The government will roll out a virtual system for individuals to make appointments at these processing centers, which will begin operating in the coming weeks.

Canada and Spain will also accept migrants referred from these centers.

The administration will further expand family reunification programs to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Colombia, which allow U.S. residents to request to bring over their family members from other countries while they go through the green card process.

The administration’s existing program that allows certain migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua to apply to live and work temporarily in the U.S. will remain in place.

At the same time, the administration will implement measures to penalize migrants outside of these programs.

According to senior administration officials, who briefed reporters ahead of the announcement on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Biden administration, the administration plans to finalize by May 12 its proposed rule that would make it harder for migrants to qualify for asylum if they crossed through another country en route to the U.S. border without first seeking protection there.

The government will also increase use of expedited removal, a process that allows migrants who do not clear an initial asylum screening to be quickly deported without a full immigration court process.

While those expelled under Title 42 could make multiple attempts at crossing, individuals who are deported will face a five-year ban on reentering the country.

The administration will also surge resources to the border to improve processing.