Data table

A Senate deal on Ukraine, Israel, and border funding might include new restrictions on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, satisfying Republican legislators’ demand. Of what we know, the most radical of these would be a new legal authority shutting the border to asylum seekers when the daily average of migrant apprehensions exceeds 5,000.

That would trigger a new “Title 42” authority expelling people out of the United States (if Mexico agrees to take them), regardless of protection needs.

On January 27, President Biden described this as an “emergency authority to shut down the border until it can get back under control.” He added, “If that bill were the law today, I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.

We keep hearing this notion that more expelled asylum seekers equals fewer migrants at the border. But that’s not what happened during the Title 42 period (March 2020 to May 2023).

True, there was a decline in arrivals of would-be asylum-seekers from nationalities whose expulsions Mexico would accept. But the number of people from other countries, and of all people seeking to evade Border Patrol, grew sharply.

Migration ballooned during the Title 42 “expulsions” period. Title 42 was in place:

  • In the last 9 full months of the Trump administration, when migrant encounters shot upward, from 17,106 in April 2020 (the pandemic lockdown’s first full month) to 73,994 in December 2020.
  • in early 2021, when south Texas Border Patrol processing facilities were overwhelmed with child and family arrivals;
  • in September 2021, when more than 10,000 Haitian asylum seekers came to Del Rio, Texas all at once;
  • in September-December 2022, when more than 200,000 people—more than half of them from Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela—crossed into Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector.

This was not a time when the border was “fixed.”

If the Senate deal results in a new expulsion authority, it might bring the numbers down at the border for a few months, as all “get-tough” strategies against migration tend to do. But as we saw in 2020-2023, migration will recover despite the expulsions, after a period of adjustment—perhaps by Election Day.