US restricts asylum access at Mexico border as Title 42 ends
A general view shows the U.S.- Mexico border wall, as the United States prepares to lift COVID-19 era restrictions known as Title 42, that have blocked migrants at the U.S.- Mexico border from seeking asylum since 2020, in Tijuana, Mexico May 9, 2023. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. rolled out a new regulation on Wednesday that will deny asylum to most migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, a key part of President Joe Biden's enforcement plan as COVID-19 border restrictions known as Title 42 end this week.
The regulation creates a new presumption that migrants arriving at the border are ineligible for asylum if they passed through other nations without seeking protection elsewhere first or if they failed to use legal pathways for U.S. entry.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the new rule would mean harsher consequences for illegal border crossers. Instead of being quickly expelled to Mexico, they could be deported and barred from the U.S. for five years if they do not qualify for asylum.
"We are making it very clear that our border is not open, that crossing irregularly is against the law and that those who are not eligible for relief will be quickly returned," Mayorkas said at a press conference in Washington.
He blamed Congress for not passing meaningful immigration reform "for more than two decades," adding that lawmakers have failed to provide funds requested by the Biden administration for border agents, facilities and transportation.
The Biden administration is grappling with an increase in already record levels of unauthorized border crossings as the COVID-19 restrictions, first implemented in March 2020, are set to lift on Thursday just before midnight. Migrants have been amassing in Mexico this week and at the same time, those who have already crossed into the U.S. are straining border cities.
The Title 42 restrictions allow U.S. authorities to rapidly expel many non-Mexican migrants to Mexico without the chance to seek U.S. asylum. Mexicans, the nationality most frequently caught crossing, are able to be quickly returned to Mexico under bilateral agreements that predated the COVID-19 restrictions.
The new regulation, which becomes effective on Thursday and will expire in two years, has no major changes from a draft published in February, a senior Biden administration official told reporters on Tuesday evening.
The rule will apply to the vast majority of non-Mexican migrants since they typically pass through multiple countries en route to the United States.
Some migrants have said they are scrambling to enter the country before the new rules come into effect.
More than 10,000 migrants were caught crossing at the U.S.-Mexico border illegally each day on Monday and Tuesday, said Brandon Judd, president of a union for border patrol agents. The total surpasses a scenario outlined by a top U.S. border official last month for the period after Title 42 ends.
Border agents have been authorized to release migrants in border cities if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and charity organizations lack capacity to take them, Judd said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
CRITICISMS FROM BOTH SIDES
Republicans have criticized Biden, a Democrat running for re-election in 2024, for rolling back the hardline policies of Republican former President Donald Trump, the current front-runner for his party's nomination.
But some Democrats and immigration advocates have criticized Biden's new regulation, saying it resembles similar measures implemented under Trump that were blocked by U.S. courts and that it undercuts asylum guarantees in U.S. law and international agreements.
The move also counters previous statements Biden made in 2020 on the campaign trail, saying he thought it was "wrong" for people not to be able to seek asylum on American soil. The American Civil Liberties Union has already signaled it will sue over the policy.
On the other side of the ideological spectrum, a coalition of 22 Republican state attorneys general separately opposed the measure, saying that it is "riddled with exceptions."
In addition to the bar on asylum seekers, which could ramp up deportations, Biden officials said in late April that they are expanding legal pathways for migrants abroad in order to provide alternative ways to enter the United States and discourage illegal crossings.
On the call with reporters on Tuesday, Biden officials said the administration planned to open more than 100 migration processing centers in the Western Hemisphere and would launch a new online appointment platform in the coming days.
The officials also said they expected Mexico to step up immigration enforcement this week, including in southern Mexico.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Deepa Babington and Rosalba O'Brien)