US warns migrants against illegal crossings as Title 42 set to expire: ‘Our border is not open’

Title 42, a Trump-era policy which expelled most migrants under a little-used public health authority, expires at 11.59 pm

Andrew Feinberg
Thursday 11 May 2023 19:25 BST
(Getty Images)

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday warned migrants that the end of pandemic-era border restrictions will not enable them to enter the United States by crossing the US-Mexico border.

Mr Mayorkas appeared at the daily White House press briefing to explain the Biden administration’s preparations for the end of Title 42 – a Trump-era public health restriction which allowed most asylum seekers to be quickly turned back – and stressed that despite the end of the controversial policy, America’s borders “are not open”.

“If anyone arrives at our southern border after midnight tonight, they will be presumed ineligible for asylum and subject to steeper consequences for unlawful entry, including a minimum five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution,” he said.

Mr Mayorkas told reporters the Biden administration has been preparing for the eventual end of Title 42 for the past two years, but he also said he and administration officials are “clear-eyed” about the challenge that will be posed by the large numbers of migrants who are expected to attempt to cross into the US in hopes of gaining asylum.

With fewer than 12 hours before the expiration of that public health authority, the Homeland Security Secretary said Customs and Border Protection personnel are already seeing “high numbers” of migrant encounters that are placing “an incredible strain on our personnel, our facilities and our communities with whom we partner closely”.

But Mr Mayorkas said he is confident that the Biden administration’s plans, which include opening 100 regional processing centres in Western Hemisphere nations to handle asylum applicants’ claims before they set off for the US, as well as new, tough regulations which presume anyone entering the US outside of an authorised port of entry is ineligible for asylum, “will deliver results”.

He also cautioned that “it will take time” for the new policies to show their utility, but he reiterated his warning that as of 12am on Friday, the administration’s new policy will be applied to anyone attempting to enter the country.

“I want to be very clear: Our borders are not open. People who cross our border unlawfully and without a legal basis to remain will be promptly processed and removed,” he said, adding later that any such people removed under pre-pandemic authorities known as Title 8 will be subject to a five-year ban on entering the US in any capacity, as well as criminal prosecution if they attempt to cross into the US once more.

The DHS Secretary said criminal human smuggling operations are currently peddling disinformation to potential migrants, who are led to believe that the Biden administration has opened the US-Mexico border to all comers.

“Smugglers had been long, hard at work spreading false information that the border will be open. They are lying to people who are thinking of making the journey to our southern border,” he said.

He then addressed potential migrants directly, telling them the smuggling rings “care only about profits, not people”.

“Do not risk your life and your life savings only to be removed from the United States, if and when you arrive here,” he said.

Mr Mayorkas’ appearance in the White House briefing room to speak about the new border policies is the latest in a series of White House-directed efforts to highlight how the administration is opening avenues for people to seek asylum in the US while cracking down on crossings between lawful ports of entry.

Late last month Mr Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken unveiled plans to open the regional processing centres across the Western Hemisphere to pre-screen asylum seekers and obviate the need to travel to the border to claim asylum.

At the time, senior administration officials said personnel at the centres would “expedite pre-screening of individuals for lawful pathways to the United States” with interviews to determine if they are eligible to be referred for “refugee resettlement or other lawful pathways such as parole programmes, family reunification or existing labour pathways”.

“The regional processing centres will also provide information on local options, including regularisation opportunities in the host countries and available social services,” said the official, who added that the US government’s “criteria for refugee resettlement” will “not change” under the new programme.

“Individuals will be screened first for refugee resettlement, and then, if not found amenable for refugee resettlement, they will also be looked at in terms of the various parole programmes, family reunification programmes, existing labour pathways, and our international organisation partners will also be providing them with information on local options in many of the countries in the region have been very generous, and have been doing regularisation opportunities so that people can integrate locally,” they said.

The new policies have drawn fire from immigration advocates who say they are little different from programmes which were widely condemned during the Trump administration.

But Mr Mayorkas told reporters the work done to handle migration issues under President Joe Biden has been “markedly different” from his predecessor’s administration, under which the system by which the government processed and resettled asylum seekers was “gutted” in an attempt to prevent anyone from being able to seek refuge in the US.

“This President has led the unprecedented expansion of lawful pathways ... we have rebuilt an asylum system that was dismantled in the prior administration, we have resumed refugee processing are all around the world, and these regional processing centres are going to accelerate the board meet the refugee process in an unprecedented way,” he said.

“We are a nation of immigrants and we are a nation of laws, and those laws provide that if one qualifies for humanitarian relief, then one has established a basis to remain in the United States and if one has not, then one is to be removed”.

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