Migrant expulsion policy’s end inevitable; RGV lawmakers urge caution

Disagreement over the winding down of the Biden administration’s practice of sending most asylum seekers immediately back to Mexico has kept the policy in place, even though Border Patrol was told to prepare for its end on two separate occasions.

The practice follows a CDC order implemented in March 2020 under a federal public health authority known as Title 42. It’s been used to quickly expel migrants from the U.S. if they come “from countries where a quarantinable communicable disease exists” without the opportunity to request asylum.

It was an unprecedented move by the Trump administration, effectively blocking anyone from seeking asylum, which immigrant advocates have been trying to end.

Word of an official end to the use of Title 42 started this spring, but never came to be. U.S. Border Patrol agents were advised to prepare for an end to Title 42 expulsions during a meeting with federal officials in San Antonio in mid-May, according to sources familiar with the situation.

They were told to prepare to end the practice on May 21. It was the second time an end date was shared; the first time was in March of 2021.

Since the policy was put in place, about 755,000 people who entered the country were expelled, according to government data.

Certain families and children coming to the border without their parents were excluded. A combination of an influx, limited processing space in the Rio Grande Valley, and restrictive shelter policies in Tamaulipas led to overcrowding in Border Patrol detention facilities.

Some migrant families were released across the Valley in late January, after they were processed by Border Patrol. More releases are expected if Title 42 should come to an end.

Border Patrol sectors across the border began planning how to process thousands of migrants who are waiting and bottlenecked in Mexico — often in dangerous conditions — to seek asylum in the U.S.

But on May 21, the date they were told the expulsions would end, agents were advised Title 42 would remain in place for the time being.

No reason was given to explain the change in dates, but border lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, believe it’s too soon to lift the restrictions.

“We are not ready for the end of Title 42,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, said during Wednesday’s news conference at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who accompanied Cornyn and other colleagues, agreed and added, “You don’t just get rid of something without a plan.”

Other border congressmen in the Valley expressed similar sentiments.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, shared a similar sentiment when asked if he believed restrictions sending migrants back to Mexico should be lifted.

“No,” Vela said Friday. “That will be a matter of degree and depend on control of COVID-19 in Mexico and ensuring that we have appropriate testing and infection protocols to ensure we are not putting our own population at risk in light of our current success in beating back the virus.”

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, exhibited caution Friday.

“We can’t just flip the switch,” Gonzalez said. “And, I think we have to be very careful and not overwhelm our border communities.”

Local communities and those who assist migrants, like Sister Norma Pimentel, said they anticipate an increase in families released at shelters and bus stations.

“When and if Title 42 is lifted, I think that we will do what we’ve done in the past with the collaboration of so many, especially local, from the community, that step up and help and provide the assistance to help the families,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel oversees operations at the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen. The number of migrants released to them fluctuated as policies shifted.

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