Migrants rushed across the US border hours before pandemic-related asylum restrictions were set to expire on Thursday. They feared that new policies would make it far more difficult to gain entry into the United States. Border Patrol agents were told to begin releasing some migrants with instructions to appear at an immigration office in the United States within 60 days to clear out overwhelmed holding facilities.
The Biden administration has been unveiling measures to replace Title 42, which suspended rights to seek asylum since March 2020 on grounds of preventing the spread of Covid-19. On Wednesday, the Homeland Security Department announced a rule to make it extremely difficult for anyone who travels through another country, like Mexico, to qualify for asylum. It also introduced curfews with GPS tracking for families released in the US before initial asylum screenings.
Surge in Migrant Crossings and Overcrowding in Holding Facilities
The Border Patrol stopped about 10,000 migrants on Tuesday, one of its busiest days ever, according to a U.S. official. That’s nearly double the daily average of about 5,200 in March, the latest publicly available data, and close to the 11,000 that U.S. officials have predicted is the upper limit of a surge they anticipate after Title 42. More than 27,000 people were in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody, the official said, well above capacity. In March, 8,600 were in custody.
Border Patrol agents were ordered Wednesday to begin releasing migrants in any border sector that reached 125% of its holding capacity with instructions to report to an immigration office within 60 days. They were also told to start the releases if the average time in custody exceeded 60 hours or if 7,000 migrants were taken into custody across the entire border in any one day.
As Title 42 prevented many from seeking asylum, it carried no legal consequences, encouraging repeat attempts. After Thursday, migrants face being barred from entering the U.S. for five years and possible criminal prosecution. At the same time, the administration has introduced expansive new legal pathways into the U.S. Up to 30,000 people a month from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela can enter if they apply online with a financial sponsor and enter through an airport. Processing centers are opening in Guatemala, Colombia, and elsewhere. Up to 1,000 can enter daily though land crossings with Mexico if they snag an appointment on an online app.
Migrants have strained some US cities over the last year. Denver began seeing well over 100 migrants a day arrive on buses last week, activating an emergency operations center. The city is scrambling for shelter space. Salazar estimated about 9,000 migrants have passed through Denver since late fall, when the city suddenly became a popular stop for Venezuelans and others.
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