Republican legislators have dug in and have given the Biden administration a list of demands. Aid for Ukraine and other items in the White House’s supplemental budget request will not get their approval, they say, unless the law is changed in ways that all but eliminate the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Here, at WOLA’s site, is an analysis of this proposal and the unspeakable harm that it would do. We urge the administration and congressional Democrats to stand strong and reject it.
From the conclusion:
If the Senate Republicans’ November 6 proposal were to become law, it would deny asylum to almost all protection-seeking migrants, unless:
That migrant sought asylum and received rejections in every country through which they passed en route to the United States.
That migrant presented at a land-border port of entry (official border crossing), even though CBP strictly limits asylum seekers’ access to these facilities.
The U.S. government could not send that migrant to a third country to seek asylum there.
In an initial “credible fear” interview within days of apprehension, that migrant met a higher screening standard.
If an asylum seeker clears those hurdles, the Republican proposal would require them to await their court hearings in ICE detention—even if they are a parent with children—or while “remaining in Mexico.”
This proposal is extraordinarily radical. Congressional Republicans’ demands to attach it to 2024 spending put the Biden administration in a tough position. It is a terrible choice to have to secure funding for Ukraine and other priorities by ending the United States’ historic role as a country of refuge, breaking international commitments dating back to the years after World War II.
In a conversation with reporters whose transcript has not yet been posted online, Blas Nuñez-Neto, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, dropped an important and rarely publicized statistic.
Since the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy ended in May, Mexico has accepted the U.S. deportation into its territory of 17,000 citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. These are people denied access to asylum under the Biden administration’s “transit ban” rule.
17,000 over nearly 5 months is far fewer than the rate of Title 42 expulsions during the pandemic, when Mexico agreed to accept nearly a million land-border expulsions of citizens of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Today, Mexico just accepts citizens of the latter four countries. But 17,000 is still a lot of people, some with protection needs denied because, under the “transit ban” rule, they crossed the border improperly.
The last time we saw this number reported was July 27, when Nuñez-Neto mentioned 4,000 deportations of those countries’ citizens into Mexico. So there have been another 13,000 in the succeeding 10 weeks, or nearly 200 deportations into Mexico each day.
Why isn’t this statistic shared more often, for instance in CBP’s monthly data updates? My guess is that Mexico doesn’t like to see it publicized, and the U.S. government respects those sensibilities. (DHS would probably be happy to share news about its deportations into Mexico, out of a belief that it might discourage some migrants.)
Using data released today from the Mexican government’s Refugee Aid Commission (COMAR), here is the breakdown of asylum requests before Mexico’s system during what is certain to be a record-breaking year. Asylum requests in Mexico are on track to exceed 150,000 in 2023.
Last month, Mexico received 11,984 asylum requests, the second-lowest monthly total all year. 33 percent came from citizens of Haiti, plus another 6 percent from Brazil and Chile who are almost entirely the children born in those countries to Haitian migrants there. Honduras followed with 27 percent of September’s total, then Cuba (11 percent).
The director of the Mexican government’s Refugee Aid Commission (COMAR) just shared on ex-Twitter that 112,960 people sought asylum in Mexico’s protection system during the first 9 months of 2023.
The tweet reads, “At the end of September, COMAR had registered 112,960 applicants for refugee status in Mexico. This figure exceeds by 26.39% the historical mark for the same period established in 2021. With this trend, the number of applicants will exceed 150,000 by the end of the year.”
Here’s how Mexico’s asylum applications during the first nine months of 2023 compare with the first nine months of the previous five years. It’s not even close.
The Mexican government’s refugee agency, COMAR, just posted data through August about the number of migrants from other countries who have applied for asylum in Mexico. Eight months into the year, COMAR is nearly at 100,000 applications, on pace to reach, or be just below, 150,000 by the end of the year. Mexico appears certain to break 2021’s record of 129,768 asylum applications.
Most applicants are from Haiti, Honduras, and Cuba. As Gretchen Kuhner of Mexico’s non-governmental Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI) pointed out in last week’s WOLA Podcast, a lot of migrants stranded in Mexico are being channeled into the asylum system by a lack of other options for having a legal status in the country.
What a week last week was. I was just back from Honduras, I had an all-day staff planning retreat Wednesday, and I drove from Washington to Massachusetts and back on Thursday and Friday, as my daughter finished her first year of college.
And, oh yes, Title 42 ended on May 11th.
Things were so busy that, while I managed to write this commentary for WOLA’s site as fast as I could type it, I never actually posted a link to it here, at my personal site.
A week later, this piece has almost exactly 40,000 “unique pageviews” and about twice that many “pageviews,” according to WOLA’s Google Analytics account. That definitely breaks my career record, at least for writings where I’ve seen the stats.
May 11 is the final day for the Trump and Biden administrations’ “Title 42” policy, which undid the basic right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border for 38 months.
Now, 2.8 million migrant expulsions later, the U.S. government is reverting to immigration law as it existed before the world went into lockdown. But as it does so, the Biden administration is adding a new limitation on asylum that, with Mexico’s cooperation, promises to continue the pandemic-era practice of sending asylum seekers away from the United States, placing many in danger.
Media coverage is anticipating a wave of migration at the border, with headlines proclaiming that officials are “bracing for an influx.” Legislators are seeking new ways to block asylum seekers, citing “chaos.” Such concerns are misplaced.
Migration will increase, just as it did before each of Title 42’s earlier, abortive expiration dates. But the post-May 11 increase is likely to be neither giant nor long-lasting. After all, Title 42 hardly deterred migration in the first place: it’s at or near record levels already, right now. And the Biden administration is working, with the Mexican government’s collaboration, to keep asylum out of reach to an extent that may resemble what we’ve already seen over the past 38 months.
Instead of a “migrant wave,” we should be concerned about:
A questionably legal “asylum transit ban” rule, about to go into effect, that could endanger many thousands of people who, though on U.S. soil, will be denied the legal right to seek protection. It’s not yet clear which nationalities, and which demographics, of migrants would be sent back into Mexico without that right. But if fully implemented, this rule would put asylum out of reach to an extent recalling what we saw during Title 42.
A worsening crisis of stranded migrants in Mexico’s border cities, resulting from the López Obrador government’s agreement to take back asylum seekers whom the U.S. government rejects, often without giving them a hearing.
A humanitarian crisis along the migration route, as new nationalities try to traverse treacherous regions like the Darién Gap.
The continued dysfunction of the U.S. asylum system, and the fragility of the tattered patchwork of alternative pathways to legal entry into the United States.
The situation at the border after May 11 may, for a time, appear disorderly. But it already has been, and it was before the pandemic began. If anything, Title 42’s lifting will make plain the need to reform our immigration system and align it with reality. And it will highlight the U.S. political system’s frustrating paralysis in the face of that challenge.
From a Stephania Taladrid account of a Venezuelan family’s journey posted to the New Yorker on Thursday. This obviously happened before October, when Title 42 was expanded to allow Venezuelans to be expelled into Mexico, also.
While Yenis readied herself to cross, Alexis learned that the woman in the other group was Salvadoran; she was in the company of her four children. Each of them got in line to form a human chain across the Rio Grande.
Once in the water, Yenis turned her back on the current to minimize its impact on her belly. There was an islet mid-river, where she paused to regain her breath, and everyone else huddled around her. It was there that the Salvadoran woman confided that she needed a favor. She had heard that Salvadoran adults, unlike Venezuelans, were not being let into the U.S. Like Alexis and Yenis, she and her children had been through too much to risk deportation, so she needed her son and daughters to make the final leg of the trip on their own. The couple exchanged glances, unable to utter a single word—they felt enough responsibility already with Diana and their unborn child. But, before they could say no, the woman began to wade in the opposite direction. “Me los cuidan, por favor,” she said—“Please, take care of them.”
Mexico’s refugee agency (COMAR) received nearly 13,000 requests for asylum in January, a pace that, if sustained for the entire year, would bring a record 154,000 asylum applications in Mexico’s system in 2023.
The number-one nationality of asylum applicants in January was Haiti, the nation that was also number one in 2021. Honduras was COMAR’s number-one asylum-seeking nationality in 2022 and prior years.
Here’s the table with this chart’s underlying data. Note that Afghanistan, for the first time, made the “top ten” in January with 430 asylum requests. Afghanistan was the number-nine nationality of migrants passing through Panama’s Darién Gap region in January (291 migrants reported by Panamanian authorities).
We’re hearing word from Los Angeles Times and Reuters reporters that the Biden administration plans to announce today its new rule curtailing asylum for migrants who passed through third countries on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. (That is, anyone who is not Mexican.)
This could not only trigger a humanitarian crisis, it is almost certainly illegal and would depend on Mexico’s government taking back thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of vulnerable people.
WOLA explained this in a report, written principally by me, published last Friday.
Title 42 could finally end, along with the U.S. government’s COVID-19 public health emergency, on May 11. This new commentary lays out what may happen next.
According to what’s taking shape, migrants seeking protection in the United States may still face a hard time. The Biden administration may reject asylum seekers using a “transit ban” and expedited removal procedures, if Mexico takes deportees. The blow would be softened by two programs, humanitarian parole and use of the “CBP One” app, but both are deeply flawed right now and need a lot of fixes.
It’s so perplexing that people are convinced that Title 42 slowed migration, and that its lifting will be a major change.
Here’s what happened to single-adult migrant encounters at the US-Mexico border after Title 42 went into effect. Not a deterrent, to say the least.
Title 42 did not similarly increase child and family migration over what came before. But it didn’t reduce it, either.
The 4 countries whose citizens could be expelled across the land border into Mexico? Title 42 slowed growth in their migration, though it remained high. But citizens of all other countries surpassed them since last summer.
Title 42 did NOT reduce US-bound migration of non-Mexicans through Mexico, which has hit all-time record levels.
Northbound migration through Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap was rare before Title 42, which did nothing to deter it.
By increasing incentives not to turn themselves in to US authorities, Title 42 probably contributed to today’s horrific amount of migrant deaths on US soil along the border.
Title 42 had no impact on drugs crossing the border. Fentanyl, for instance, is almost entirely seized at ports of entry (blue) and checkpoints (brown), it appears in most cases by US citizens.
If Title 42 ends, a short-term increase is likely. Asylum seekers from 5 countries subject to land-border expulsions into Mexico will finally have a chance to seek protection, after being bottled up for 33 months.
But don’t believe for a moment that Title 42 ever reduced migration.
This (likely with a bit more editing/polish) will be in tomorrow’s WOLA Border Update, but it’s also useful as a standalone post:
March 2020: The Trump administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) imposed the measure, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as U.S. borders closed to most travel. Citing the difficulty of detaining asylum seekers in congregate settings where viruses could spread, the order—drafted by hardline immigration opponents in the Trump White House, citing an obscure 1940s quarantine law—suspended the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. It ordered CBP to block asylum seekers from approaching ports of entry (official border crossings) and to quickly expel all migrants, regardless of protection needs, apprehended elsewhere. It was later revealed that CDC officials opposed this application of Title 42, but bent under intense political pressure. Mexico agreed to accept land-border expulsions of 4 countries’ citizens: its own, plus those of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
November 2020: D.C. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that Title 42 could not be used to expel unaccompanied child migrants. This decision was overturned on appeal in January 2021, just before Joe Biden’s inauguration, but the Biden administration has chosen not to expel non-Mexican unaccompanied children. The Trump administration had expelled unaccompanied kids 15,863 times between March and November 2020.
January 2021: The Biden administration kept the Title 42 measure in place. Of all Title 42 expulsions since March 2020, at least 81 percent have taken place since Joe Biden’s inauguration.
August 2021: After negotiations with the Biden administration broke down, the ACLU and other organizations resumed litigation challenging Title 42 in D.C. District Court.
September 2021: Following a large-scale arrival of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas— notorious for disturbing images of Border Patrol agents on horseback charging at migrants—the Biden administration began a large-scale campaign of aerial expulsions back to Haiti. Witness at the Border would count 229 expulsion flights to Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien between September 2021 and May 2022.
March 2022: The CDC decided that the pandemic’s reduced intensity made it possible to end Title 42 expulsions. The Biden administration set May 23, 2022 as Title 42’s termination date.
April 2022: Human Rights First reported tracking “at least 10,250 reports of murder, kidnapping, rape, torture and other violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers blocked in or expelled to Mexico due to Title 42 since the Biden administration took office.”
May 2022: Mexico agreed to accept land-border expulsions of Cubans and Nicaraguans for a few weeks, until May 23.
May 2022: In response to a lawsuit brought by Republican state attorneys-general, Louisiana Federal District Court Judge Robert Summerhays issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration from lifting Title 42. The May 23 deadline was revoked, and expulsions continued.
August 2022: For the first time ever, migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras comprised less than half of the population of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. This was largely because migrants from these countries faced a very high probability of Title 42 expulsion, but citizens of all other countries (especially Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Colombia) were more difficult for the U.S. government to expel; most were being released into the U.S. interior.
October 2022: The U.S. and Mexican governments announced that Mexico has agreed to accept land-border expulsions of citizens of Venezuela.
November 2022: In the case (Huisha-Huisha vs. Mayorkas) brought by the ACLU and other organizations, Judge Emmet Sullivan struck down Title 42. He acceded to a Biden administration request for five weeks in which to wind down the policy. Republican state attorneys general filed a motion to allow them to intervene in the suit.
13,217 migrants applied for asylum in Mexico’s system in November 2022, the most in a month since November 2021, according to the Mexican government’s Refugee Aid Commission (COMAR). November’s asylum requests increased 15 percent over October, and 47 percent over September.
From October to November, COMAR received the largest increase in applications from citizens of Venezuela—27 percent—though the number of Venezuelan applicants was in second place behind that of citizens of Honduras. Venezuela’s applications almost certainly increased because, after the U.S. and Mexican governments began applying Title 42 and expelling Venezuelans into Mexico on October 12, Venezuelan citizens could no longer seek protection in the United States.
All nationalities measured increases in asylum applications from October to November:
Dominican Republic: +14%
El Salvador: +12%
Despite what you hear from some U.S. politicians and media outlets, the Americas’ ongoing migration event is not just a US-Mexico border phenomenon. People are fleeing everywhere. Colombia and others are assimilating millions of Venezuelans. Costa Rica is doing the same with Nicaraguans. And here’s Mexico.