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Homeland Security reports fewer encounters at US-Mexico border

Lawmakers warned of possible rise after end of Title 42, but opposite has happened so far

A U.S. Border Patrol agent (second to right) speaks to immigrants before they are transported from a makeshift camp amongst border walls, between the U.S. and Mexico, on Saturday, as seen from San Diego.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent (second to right) speaks to immigrants before they are transported from a makeshift camp amongst border walls, between the U.S. and Mexico, on Saturday, as seen from San Diego. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Border agents have reported a significant decrease in the number of contacts with migrants crossing the southwest border in the days following the end of pandemic-era border restrictions, a Department of Homeland Security official said Monday.

Blas Nuñez-Neto, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at DHS, told reporters that an average of fewer than 5,000 migrants had been encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border each of the last three days since the so-called Title 42 border policy was lifted.

That’s less than half of the number of migrants encountered at the border in the three days leading up to the end of the policy, when an average of more than 10,000 border crossings were logged each day, Nuñez-Neto said.

But he also cautioned the data was too preliminary to draw firm conclusions about the impact of the end of the policy.

“It is still early though, and we are mindful that smugglers will continue to look for ways to take advantage of the change in border policies,” Nuñez-Neto said.

This Title 42 policy, which terminated Thursday night with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, allowed border agents to expel migrants without considering their asylum claims. DHS had projected agents could see as many as 13,000 migrants each day once the Title 42 policy ended.

The department rolled out a slate of other measures aimed to replace Title 42 and discourage migrants from crossing the border without authorization.

DHS made more appointments available on a government smartphone app called CBP One for migrants to schedule a time to request asylum at the border, and has implemented programs allowing certain migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua to apply to come to the U.S. legally.

In turn, the administration finalized a policy making it harder for migrants who cross the border without authorization to qualify for asylum unless they first attempted to request protection in another nation on their way to the border.

Still, lawmakers and administration officials had warned the end of the Title 42 policy after more than three years could draw a spike in migration, which could overwhelm border facilities and local communities.

According to Nuñez-Neto, the U.S. sent more than 2,400 migrants back to Mexico over the past three days. He also said Monday while the number of migrants currently held in Border Patrol custody is “still relatively high,” that number is “significantly below” last week’s levels.

“We are managing through the numbers we are seeing so far, I think, extraordinarily well,” he said.

Criticism

While immigrant advocates have largely welcomed the end to the Title 42 policy, they have sharply criticized the administration in recent weeks for its decision to replace the pandemic directive with other asylum restrictions.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups already sued the administration on Thursday night to challenge the asylum transit policy.

Several advocates, who briefed reporters on Friday after the Title 42 policy ended, took issue with the administration’s plans to rely on the CBP One app to require migrants to schedule a time to make an asylum claim. Migrants who attempt to make a claim without using the app, or applying through another legal channel, will be subject to the heightened eligibility criteria.

Maribel Hernandez Rivera of American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that “asylum is not something you schedule.”

“When you are fleeing for your life, you don’t schedule an appointment. You go, and you save your six-year-old daughter,” Hernandez Rivera said.

Kassi Gonzalez, staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in an interview Monday that even with the expanded appointments, the app is insufficient to meet demand.

“As we monitor what’s going on, the right to seek asylum is something that we’re definitely keeping an eye out for, because we know these people are being forced to wait in really, really dangerous conditions,” Gonzalez said.

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