TEXAS, USA — The number of encounters between U.S. agents and migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped by half compared with the days leading up to the expiration of Title 42, the emergency public health order used to quickly expel people from the country, a top Biden administration official said Monday.
“It is still early, though, and we are mindful that smugglers will continue to look for ways to take advantage of the change in border policies,” Blas Nuñez-Neto, an assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters in a morning press conference. “It is important to note that while Title 42 has ended, the conditions that are causing hemispheric migration at unprecedented levels have not changed.”
In the days before Title 42 ended late Thursday night, immigration agents had about 10,000 encounters a day with migrants at the southern border. Since Friday, that number has dropped to about 5,000 a day.
Nuñez-Neto said immigration officials have deported more than 2,400 Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans to Mexico since Friday.
Since March 2020, when the Trump administration invoked Title 42 for the first time at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration agents have used it about 2.7 million times at the southern border. In fiscal year 2022, which ended in September, agents apprehended immigrants a record-breaking 2.3 million times at the southern border — and in the first six months of the current fiscal year, apprehensions hit 1.2 million.
On Friday, border officials from El Paso to McAllen said the end of Title 42 was smooth and the number of migrants crossing and being released from federal custody was below what they had expected. Federal officials had predicted that up to 13,000 migrants per day would cross the border after Title 42 ended.
According to The Washington Post, more than 27,000 migrants were in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody at one point last week, triple the official capacity.
With Title 42 gone, Border Patrol agents will go back to pre-pandemic immigration laws that impose stiffer penalties on migrants who enter the U.S. without permission.
The Biden administration has added new options to allow migrants to request asylum without going to the southern border, including a government cellphone app known as CBP One. Migrants will also have the option of applying for asylum at new processing centers in Guatemala or Colombia, which will give successful applicants the option to legally enter Canada, Spain or the U.S.
The administration also has imposed stricter penalties on asylum-seekers who try to cross the border illegally: They could be charged with a misdemeanor of illegal entry, or a felony if they’ve tried to enter the U.S. multiple times. They could also be barred from the country for five years.
A rule that went into effect Thursday will deny asylum to migrants who passed through a third country where they could have sought asylum instead.
This story comes from The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.