DHS Secretary commits to ending Title 42, but ‘that does not mean that the border is open’

Mayorkas lays out operational plans in place at Southwest Border

Officials along the border are preparing for change as Title 42, a COVID-era policy that prevents migrants from entering the U.S., is set to end next week. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was in the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday to talk about what happens after the policy ends.

During a visit to the Southwest border in the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday, United States Secretary of Homeland Alejandro Mayorkas said his department is prepared for the ending of Title 42, an immigration restriction provision that has been used to expel migrants.

In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, former President Donald Trump invoked Title 42, a clause in federal law that allows the federal government to ban people or goods from entering the U.S. to prevent the spread of disease. That order will end on May 23 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assessed that Title 42 was no longer necessary.

“That does not mean that the border is open beginning on May 23,” Mayorkas said. “We continue to enforce the laws of this country. We continue to remove individuals who do not qualify for relief under the laws of this country.”

Mayorkas laid out a six-pillar plan on how the agency plans to move forward from Title 42. The priorities include increasing resources for U.S. Customers and Border Protection, strict enforcement of expedited removal procedures and partnerships with other countries in the Western Hemisphere.

“We have a multi prong approach to what is a dynamic situation,” Mayorkas said.

Title 42 order has been used more than 1.8 million times to keep migrants from entering this country, many of which are repeated entry attempts.

Mayorkas warned any migrants from trusting smugglers to help them get into the United States.

“Do not place your lives in the hands of individuals who only seek to exploit your lives for the sake of profit,” he said.

During a visit to the Southwest border in the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday, United States Secretary of Homeland Alejandro Mayorkas said his department is prepared for the ending of Title 42, an immigration restriction provision that has been used to expel migrants.

Though a federal court barred the Biden administration from transitioning away from Title 42, the restraining order is set to expire on May 23 unless the states suing the administration are successful in their pursuit of an injunction. If that happens, Mayorkas said the Department of Justice will determine how the DHS would respond.

Mayorkas visited a remodeled processing center in McAllen, the region’s largest city, where migrants sat on metal benches and on sleeping mats spread on the floor, as aluminum thermal blankets made rustling noises. Televisions pointed into cells.

Customs and Border Protection officials stopped migrants 234,088 times on the Mexican border in April, one of the highest in decades and a 5.8% increase from 221,303 in March, according to figures released this week.

But the April tally included 20,118 Ukrainians, nearly all of them entering the country at San Diego’s San Ysidro border crossing from Tijuana, Mexico, on humanitarian parole. That number has plummeted since April 25, when the Biden administration stopped accepting Ukrainians at land crossings with Mexico and instead directed them to fly directly to the United States.

Many migrants are repeat crossers because there are no legal consequences of being expelled under Title 42 authority. In April, about 28% were encountered at least once in the previous year.

U.S. authorities applied Title 42 in about four out of every 10 encounters. The rest were subject to immigration laws, which include a right to seek asylum.

The administration said in a court filing Monday that about 91,000 migrants were paroled into the U.S., including people permitted to make asylum claims.

Cubans continued crossing in large numbers, aided by eased travel restrictions to Nicaragua that allow them to fly from the Caribbean island nation to Central America and travel by land to the U.S. border. They were stopped 35,079 times in April, up 8.3% from 32,402 times in March and more than 10 times April 2020.

WATCH: Mother recounts journey to U.S. border with young daughter from Nicaragua

Even with the COVID-era Title 42 policy in place, not everyone trying to enter the U.S. border has been turned away. Some migrants have still been allowed to stay with host families, and others have gone to the Rio Grande Valley's largest respite center. KSAT's Alicia Barrera spoke to a mother who arrived at the border with her young daughter, searching for a better life.

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About the Authors:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.