U.S. Warns Migrants Before End of Pandemic Restrictions That ‘Border Is Not Open’

A day before a pandemic-era rule that was used to swiftly expel migrants at the southern border is set to expire, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, warned migrants on Wednesday against crossing illegally into the United States.

“Our border is not open,” Mr. Mayorkas said, adding that those who enter illegally will now face tougher consequences, including expulsion from the country. “Do not risk your life and your life savings only to be removed from the United States if — if and when — you arrive here.”

Mr. Mayorkas’s last-ditch warning came as officials brace for a new influx of tens of thousands of migrants once Title 42, a Trump-era policy in place since March 2020, lifts on Thursday. The effect is already apparent. On Tuesday, border officials apprehended more than 11,000 migrants who had crossed illegally, according to internal data, an increase over the 7,000 to 8,000 crossings a day last week.

Title 42 had effectively kept the border closed to asylum seekers and largely allowed officials to skip parts of the prolonged administrative processing of migrants and automatically return those caught entering illegally to Mexico. Once the rule expires, officials will return to decades-old border laws that prolonged the process.

But the end of the policy is exposing deep divisions that have for years hampered congressional efforts to rework the country’s outdated immigration laws. Those laws are now in the spotlight as Republican leaders attempt to pass a stringent border enforcement bill through the House that has pitted members of the G.O.P. against one another.

Mr. Mayorkas said the administration was sending more asylum officers to process claims as well as thousands of personnel from the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense. President Biden said on Wednesday that he was considering sending additional troops to the border, adding to the 1,500 announced last week.

Mr. Mayorkas has repeated the warning he delivered Wednesday for the past two years. But migrants are likely to continue attempting to cross into the United States, given that officials have been releasing them from Border Patrol’s custody to stay in the country temporarily until they face an immigration court hearing.

It is unclear how many more illegal crossings there will be once Title 42 lifts. In El Paso on Wednesday, the Border Patrol chief, Raul L. Ortiz, said he did not expect the number to reach 17,000 or 18,000 a day.

“The increases that we’ve seen in the last five to six days — I think were really the surge,” Mr. Ortiz told a group of reporters. “I think that what we see now is a continued effort by some to message incorrectly that once Title 42 goes away, it’s going to be a free-for-all along the border.”

Mr. Mayorkas said that his department is also launching a digital advertising campaign in Central and South America to counter false claims made by smugglers that the end of Title 42 means the border will be open.

“Do not believe their lies,” Mr. Mayorkas said in a message to migrants. He also warned that with the end of Title 42, migrants may face criminal charges if they are eventually expelled and try to cross again.

President Biden has struggled to settle on an approach to immigration that satisfies his critics on the right or the left. Mr. Mayorkas said on Wednesday that the administration is set to impose a restriction on asylum seekers when Title 42 expires that would quickly reject claims for most people who cross the border but do not seek refuge in Mexico first, with limited exceptions.

“We are finalizing a new rule to encourage individuals to use available, lawful, safe and orderly pathways to enter the United States,” Mr. Mayorkas said. “The rule presumes that those who do not use lawful pathways to enter the United States are ineligible for asylum.”

The policy has come under fire from advocacy groups who liken the rule to the Trump administration’s much-criticized “Remain in Mexico” policy — which forced asylum seekers to wait, often in dangerous conditions, in Mexico while their cases were processed in the United States. That rule eventually ended after being blocked by the courts.

After a telephone call with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico on Tuesday, President Biden conceded that the situation at the border would “be chaotic for a while.” On Wednesday, Mr. Mayorkas blamed Congress for its failure to pass effective legislation.

“We are delivering on tougher consequences for unlawful entry,” Mr. Mayorkas said. “We are taking this approach within the constraints of a broken immigration system that Congress has not fixed for more than two decades, and without the resources we need — personnel, facilities, transportation and others — that we have requested of Congress and that we were not given.”

Republicans have accused Mr. Biden of enacting an “open border” policy and threatened to impeach Mr. Mayorkas. They have also promised to pass legislation that would keep unlawful migrants out of the United States. But their efforts have sparked a series of protests from within the G.O.P. and, on Wednesday, prompted a last-minute scramble to keep the bill from falling apart.

Along some parts of the southern border, migrants were crowding in makeshift camps looking for ways to cross onto U.S. soil.

At a squalid camp on the Rio Grande near Brownsville, Texas, a group of migrants cut through holes in a fence, and a handful of them managed to get through before agents in uniform on the U.S. side turned them back.

Marvel Benitez, a 31-year-old immigrant from Honduras, was one of those hoping to cross. But when he heard the agents yell to the crowd in Spanish “no entre,” he knew he had no chance. Moments later he delivered the bad news to his wife. “They are not letting us in,” he said. “We can’t cross today.”

Elizabeth Guerra, 33, shrugged in disbelief at the scene of border agents closing the gap in the breached fence. She said she left Brazil to escape poverty and persecution months ago and now found herself with more questions than answers. She had been under the impression that the end of Title 42 would mean easy entry to the United States, she said.

“It’s very confusing,” she said. “One day they let in a pregnant woman, elderly people and then the next day, no. I already applied in Guatemala and Mexico. And I never heard back.”

“Now I am here and I can’t turn back. It’s too late. We are all desperate,” she said.

Edgar Sandoval contributed reporting from Matamoros, Mexico, Eileen Sullivan from El Paso and Karoun Demirjian from Washington.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *