A person stands next to the U.S.-Mexico border barrier painted with a mural depicting people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children and were deported as adults on July 22, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. The mural was created by artist Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration Thursday announced the use of processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala to create legal pathways for migrants, in preparation for the ending of a pandemic-era tool used to expel migrants that is expected to cease in May.
The migrant processing centers will open shortly and be run by international organizations. Migrants will be screened — and if found eligible — referred to programs like the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, parole programs, family reunification or existing labor pathways, a senior administration official told reporters on a call.
The processing centers will also offer “local options” for migrants, a senior administration official said, but did not offer additional details as to what those local options are.
“These will be primarily nationals of the Western Hemisphere and Caribbean countries,” the senior administration official said.
Spain and Canada have also agreed to accept referrals from those processing centers, the senior administration official said.
“It’s this sort of partnership and collaboration that will help address the challenges of irregular migration and forced displacement in the hemisphere,” a senior administration official said.
Migrants who do not apply through those legal pathways and cross the U.S.-Mexico border will be subject to swift deportation “in a matter of days” and barred from applying for asylum for five years, senior administration officials said.
The Department of Homeland Security will establish new family reunification parole processes for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia, and the “United States will commit to welcoming thousands of additional refugees per month from the Western Hemisphere,” according to a DHS fact sheet.
“These processes, once finalized, will allow vetted individuals with already approved family-based petitions to be paroled into the United States, on a case-by-case basis,” according to the fact sheet.
Senior administration officials did not give an exact location for the processing centers, or say how many would be available, but said more information would be released in the coming weeks.
Title 42 coming to an end
With a May 11 end date to Title 42, U.S. officials will rely on Title 8, which allows the government to process and remove migrants to their home country if they do not establish that there is a credible threat to their lives.
Senior administration officials on the call reiterated that the ending of Title 42 “does not mean the border is open,” which is a common criticism from GOP lawmakers. U.S. House Republicans have held multiple hearings on the issue.
There will also be an additional hiring of 300 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, the senior administration official said.
DHS has primarily used Title 42 as its main enforcement policy in recent years, using it to expel more than 2.5 million migrants back to Mexico or their home countries since 2020.
Democrats and immigration advocates have pressured the Biden administration to end the policy, but attempts to end the program have been blocked by federal courts due to lawsuits brought by Republican officials. The dispute made its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided to keep the policy in place until it ends on May 11.
The senior administration officials said these initiatives are modeled on parole programs for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Senior officials also said the administration is expanding the use of the CBP One App, which was initially used for commercial trucking companies to schedule inspections at U.S. ports of entry, but is being used to screen asylum seekers and for those migrants to schedule appointments at an official U.S. port of entry.
Migrants located in Central and Northern Mexico will have access to the app, DHS said in a fact sheet.
The Biden administration in January announced dual immigration strategies in an attempt to limit migration across the U.S.-Mexico border. That policy allows up to 30,000 migrants each month from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua who have U.S.-based financial sponsors and have passed a background check to enter the country legally. If approved, they are then allowed to work temporarily in the U.S. for two years.
However, if they do not follow those procedures and try to cross the border without authorization, they are immediately expelled to Mexico.
Congressional Democrats criticized that policy, calling it a “transit ban,” and reminiscent of a Trump administration immigration policy that banned migrants from claiming asylum if they travel through another country.
Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently released an immigration plan to help manage migration in the Western Hemisphere, urging the Biden administration to follow his “four pillars to effectively manage migration in the Americas.”
“My plan provides a set of policies that will secure our borders without sacrificing our domestic and legal obligations to asylum seekers by working with partners in the region to give people alternative options to illegal smuggling networks,” he said in a statement.
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