President Joe Biden predicted on Tuesday that the U.S.-Mexico border will be “chaotic for a while” as pandemic-related restrictions end and his new border policies come into effect.
The Trump-era Title 42 border policy will be lifted on Thursday as a set of new policies are set in place to clamp down on illegal border crossings.
The Title 42 restrictions have allowed U.S. officials to swiftly return asylum seekers and illegal migrants over the border on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19—over 2.8 million times since March 2020.
The Biden administration’s new policies allow law-abiding immigrants a path into the United States—if they apply online through a government app, have a sponsor, and pass background checks.
During a recent visit to the border city of Brownsville, Texas, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said people could apply for permission to join their families and for the U.S. refugee program and humanitarian parole those deemed to be particularly vulnerable, which is decided on a case-by-case basis, at regional processing centers—reminiscent of the Trump era “Remain in Mexico” immigration policies.
The government plans to open 100 such hubs across the Western Hemisphere outside U.S. borders, with the first ones starting in Guatemala and Colombia.
The administration has said that family reunification will be available to the immediate family members of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia. It has named a 100,000 limit for annual family reunifications from Latin America, although details of the policy have yet to be released.
Under humanitarian parole, 30,000 people a month will be allowed to enter the country from four countries.
“Our plan will deliver results, but it will take time for those results to be fully realized,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned.
From Thursday, families who apply for entry at the U.S. border will face curfews and monitoring; and the head of household will wear an ankle bracelet as their immigration cases are heard within 30 days.
Immigrants caught crossing the border illegally will not be allowed to return for five years. They can face criminal prosecution if they do.
Biden said his administration was working to make the change orderly. “But it remains to be seen,” he told reporters. “It’s going to be chaotic for a while.”
Hundreds of illegal migrants have been lining up at major ports of entry ahead of the expiration of the Title 42 policy.
Andres Barra, a 39-year-old migrant, was recently apprehended by border agents near San Diego. He told The Associated Press that he fled Colombia because frequent robberies and extortion had made his life difficult there. He took a plane to Tijuana, Mexico, on Friday, then paid a smuggler $300 to guide him to a mountain peak across the border.
Barra said he had hoped to enter the United States while the current restrictions are still in place, because he was told that crossing the border will be more difficult after Thursday.
According to Gregory Bovino, Border Patrol chief of El Centro, California, his sector apprehended almost three times more illegal immigrants in the last four or five days before Sunday: 260 a day compared to 90 a day the previous week.
Roughly 10,000 people were apprehended by Border Patrol on Tuesday, among the largest apprehensions in a single day, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly. More than 27,000 people were in custody. Custody numbers vary as migrants are released or deported, but in March 8,600 people were in Border Patrol custody.
In the Mexican border city of Reynosa, Texas, groups handed out fliers on Tuesday explaining how to register for the CBP One app that the United States has been using to allow eligible immigrants to schedule an appointment to process their claim for legal entry into the country.
“We believe we have a robust process to deal with what is going to occur after Title 42 lifts. Again, we’re using the tools that are available to us because Congress refuses to do their job as it relates to the border,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday.
Ever since Biden took office, the United States has seen record numbers of people crossing the border, even with the COVID-19 border crossing restrictions in place.
According to Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Biden has deployed 550 active-duty troops to assist at the southern border, an additional 900 soldiers, Marines, and airmen will join the border by the end of May.
The task of the U.S. Troops will be to help monitor and watch the border, or do data entry and support. The troops will not be interacting directly with the immigrants in any way, Ryder assured, adding that their main goal is to free up U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel to do law enforcement activities.
At the moment, about 2,500 National Guard members are already assisting CBP across the entire length of the border. Separately, Texas has deployed its own, newly established “Tactical Border Force” to various hotspots along its southern border.
Some illegal immigrants have been spurred to attempt entry by rumors or false information from human smugglers about what the changes in border policy will mean for their chances of being able to remain in the United States.
“It’s a very complicated legal system and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to communicate the realities of our clients,” said Daniel Berlin of the non-profit International Rescue Committee. “While we try to communicate the most accurate and up-to-date information that we have, smugglers and traffickers and other bad actors are communicating false information.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.