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Texas immigrant rights groups slam Biden's plan to expedite removing migrants from U.S

Some asylum-seeking migrants and others wait on the Mexico side of Rio Grande River while others attempt to cross the border into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.
Jim Urquhart for NPR
Some asylum-seeking migrants and others wait on the Mexico side of Rio Grande River while others attempt to cross the border into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 21, 2022.

Texas advocacy groups are giving the Biden administration mixed reviews after the White House announced new immigration policies Thursday to prepare for the end of a controversial border health rule that rapidly expels migrants from the U.S.

Title 42, a policy initiated in March 2020 by the Trump administration, comes to an end May 11 as migrant crossings into Texas continue to trend upward. In preparation, the Department of Homeland Security announced on Thursday it will open new processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala, with more added later in other countries, to “reduce irregular migration” and facilitate legal pathways for travel. Applicants can make appointments there for processing and possible approval of legal pathways to enter the U.S., Canada or Spain.

The administration also announced it will expand family reunification programs for migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia. It will also improve a current process for migrants from Cuba and Haiti.

The Department of Homeland Security will also step up its enforcement and removal efforts as it anticipates a spike in unauthorized crossings after the policy ends. Those measures include expedited removal for migrants caught crossing into the country without authorization. Migrants who are deported under the new policy could be barred from trying to enter the country for five years. They could also be barred from seeking asylum in the United States.

“Our message remains clear to those seeking to come to the United States: Do not believe smugglers. Do not put your life at risk by taking the dangerous journey only to be sent back,” a statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection reads. “Use lawful pathways to come to the United States. The United States will continue to remove noncitizens who arrive without authorization.”

Though it recognized the White House’s efforts to increase processing, the Texas Civil Rights Project balked at the other measures announced Thursday.

“While we are encouraged by the administration taking proactive steps to create additional processing capacity, there are serious issues with this approach,” said Kassandra Gonzalez, an attorney with the Beyond Borders Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “The goal of Biden’s immigration agenda is clear: remove people as quickly as possible, deter migration, and erect barriers to people seeking asylum. Once again the administration is resorting to policies used by Trump – policies that Biden himself once denounced as cruel.”

Officials at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso gave a nod to the proposed expansion of some current programs but also slammed the administration’s decision to increase expedited removal.

“Las Americas supports efforts to expand family reunification pathways for people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia, however, we are deeply concerned about the administration's continuous focus on deterrence policies instead of utilizing resources to make the U.S. asylum system accessible and equitable,” said Jennifer Babaie, the director of advocacy and legal services at Las Americas. “Based on the information released today, it seems that the administration seeks to make it easier to remove individuals and families from the U.S. without due process protections by making it ever more difficult to qualify for asylum. This is both cruel and a violation of our legal obligations.”

Border encounters continue to increase in Texas

El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Scott Good told the El Paso Times that his sector, which also includes New Mexico, has increased detention capacity and expanded the number of United States Immigration and Naturalization Services representatives in the area. The sector has been one of the busiest this year in the lead up to Title 42 coming to an end.

Since the federal government’s 2023 fiscal year began in October, agents in the El Paso sector have encountered more than 265,000 undocumented immigrants, according to CBP statistics. That’s about 47,000 more than Texas’ Del Rio sector, which saw the second-highest number of encounters. The Rio Grande Valley has also seen an increase in recent days, with more than 7,000 people being apprehended in one day earlier this week, CBS reported.

The Department of Homeland Security will also deliver nearly $300 million in additional funds to border regions to assist local communities dealing with the increased number of migrants. That’s in addition to $135 million already allotted.

Despite the new policies, the DHS said the agency knows mitigating the flow of migrants will take time.

In Thursday’s announcement the agency said: “Notwithstanding these efforts, we expect the days following the end of Title 42 public health order will be challenging and that encounters will increase for a time, as smugglers will seek to spread disinformation to capitalize on this change.”

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

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Julián Aguilar