U.S. to establish immigration processing centers in Latin America
Under fire from Republicans as record-high levels of migrants trek across the U.S.-Mexico border each month, the Biden administration unveiled a plan Wednesday to cut them off at the pass as they make their way north.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the plan for immigration centers on Thursday, calling them "a hugely important step to prevent people from making the dangerous journey to the border by providing a much safer legal option to migrate that they can pursue in and from their own countries."
The announcement comes two weeks before the Trump-era Title 42 border policy will expire on May 11. The regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services was put into action at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and has been used more than 2 million times since then, allowing for quicker expulsion of migrants on public health grounds before they can seek asylum.
Starting May 12, Mayorkas said border agents will expel illegal immigrants by way of a different law, Title 8, which allows a similar expedited removal process. Those crossing illegally will be barred from entering the U.S. for at least five years and be ineligible for asylum.
“Those who do not have a legal basis to stay will have made the journey, often having suffered horrific trauma and having paid their life savings to the smugglers only to be quickly removed,” he said.
Against these measures, the U.S. is on track for another year of 2 million people arrested as they attempt to cross into the U.S. from Mexico illegally. The first time this happened in 2022 marked a first for the United States.
Republicans complain that the administration is not doing enough, and that immigration centers won't make a difference.
“Since Biden was inaugurated, we’ve lost operational control of our southern border,” Representative Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, said in a press release Thursday. “We’re losing our country down there.”
Between 5,000 and 6,000 people a month will be processed a month at each center when the first two open in Guatemala and Colombia. These countries were chosen with an eye toward intercepting people either beginning or planning their journeys north.
“The whole model is to reach the people where they are, to cut the smugglers out and have them avoid the perilous journey,” Mayorkas said.
He predicted that this regional approach to immigration “can and will reduce the number of migrants who meet our southern border.”
Upon making appointments at the centers, the secretary noted, eligible individuals or families will rapidly processed through lawful pathways to immigrate to the U.S., Canada or Spain.
Mayorkas offered a message for people who expect that, without Title 42 in place, they will be able to get into the U.S. more easily.
“The smugglers’ propaganda is false,” he said. “Let me be clear: our border is not open and will not be open after May 11.”
Violence in a person's homeland is a long-recognized root of migration. When the organization Doctors Without Borders did a survey in 2015 of asylum seekers who hailed from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — countries that make up the region known as the Northern Triangle — 39% percent cited attacks or threats to themselves or family as the reason for leaving. A similar number had a relative who was killed in the past two years. And 48% knew someone who was either kidnapped or who disappeared.
In a statement accompanying its official numbers last year, Customs and Border Protection officials attributed the uptick in part to "the large number of individuals fleeing failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba."
Using August 2022 numbers as a snapshot, the agency noted that the 55,333 of people from Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua who entered from these countries in that one month represent over a third of total August numbers, a 175% increase from 2021.
Another third of the total came from Mexico and northern Central America, but this was a reduction for the third month in a row. Compared with August 2021, the U.S. saw a 43% decline in unique encounters with people from those countries.
To improve safety in the parts of the world that people are fleeing, the U.S. is coordinating with Panama and Colombia to disrupt criminal trafficking networks in the Darien corridor in Panama. Earlier this month, the Justice Department also announced sweeping charges for the leaders of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel.
Meanwhile the U.S. is also increasing resources at the border so that it can use tougher enforcement measures against people who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. President Joe Biden authorized the Pentagon to activate the Ready Reserve, a Department of Defense program that maintains a pool of trained reservists who can be called to active duty if needed.