By Ted Hesson and Mica Rosenberg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration is planning to use pandemic-era restrictions to expel many Cuban, Nicaraguan and Haitian migrants caught at the southwest border back to Mexico, while simultaneously allowing some to enter the United States by air on humanitarian grounds, according to three U.S. officials familiar on the matter.
This latest policy under consideration comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that pandemic-era restrictions, known as Title 42, must stay in place for what could be months as a legal battle over their future plays out.
Under Title 42, which was originally issued in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic under Republican former President Donald Trump, border agents can rapidly expel migrants to Mexico without giving them a chance to seek asylum.
Frosty diplomatic relations between the United States and the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela have complicated deportations to those countries. Increasing numbers of migrants from those countries have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking U.S. asylum amid economic and political turmoil at home.
The new rules for Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians would be modeled on an existing program for Venezuelans launched in October. The program allows up to 24,000 Venezuelans outside the United States to apply to enter the country by air through "humanitarian parole" if they have U.S. sponsors. Venezuelans arrested trying to cross border are generally returned to Mexico.
Mexico has only accepted the expulsion of some nationalities, mostly Mexicans and Central Americans, under Title 42. But after Mexico agreed to accept back Venezuelans in October, their crossings dropped dramatically, with some giving up and returning home.
Two officials said the policy shift for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans could come as soon as this week. A third official said it could be applied to the first two groups this week and Nicaraguans at a later date. No final decisions have been made, a fourth U.S. official told Reuters. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.
Haiti has accepted deportees and migrants expelled under Title 42 but lawmakers and advocates have criticized the Biden administration for returning people while the country is going through political and economic turmoil.
Deportation, under a statute known as Title 8, is a more formal and drawn out process that can lead to long bars on U.S. re-entry as compared to expulsions that can take just hours under Title 42.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Mexican officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
U.S. officials said Title 42 was originally put in place to curb the spread of COVID, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has since said it is no longer needed for public health reasons. Immigrant advocates says it exposes vulnerable migrants to serious risks, like kidnapping or assault, in Mexican border towns.
U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has struggled with unprecedented levels of migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border since taking office in January 2021, fueling criticism from Republicans and some members of his own party who say his policies are too lax.
U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended a record 2.2 million migrants at the southwest border in the 2022 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. Close to half of those arrested were rapidly expelled under the Title 42 policy.
Under the new Venezuelan parole program, more than 14,000 Venezuelans had been vetted and received approval to travel to the United States and more than 5,900 had already arrived lawfully as of Nov. 30, according to DHS.
Following the launch of the Venezuelan program, the number of Venezuelans caught crossing into the United States illegally fell nearly 70% from about 21,000 encounters in October to 6,200 in November, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data released last week.
Cuban and Nicaraguan crossings increased 38% during that same period with about 68,000 migrants entering the country in November, up from 49,000 a month earlier.
Few Haitians have been caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months as thousands have been allowed to request humanitarian entry at U.S. ports of entry.
In a border management plan released earlier this month, the agency said it intended to build on the model presented by the Venezuelan program.
The parole program for Venezuelans was similar to one created following Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine that allows Ukrainians with U.S. sponsors to enter and temporarily stay in the United States by applying from outside the country.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Mary Milliken and Aurora Ellis)
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has ordered the Trump-era Title 42 border rule to stay in effect.
(Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday left in place for now a pandemic-era policy allowing U.S. officials to rapidly expel migrants caught at the U.S.-Mexico border. In a 5-4 vote, the court granted a request by Republican state attorneys general to put on hold a judge's decision invalidating the emergency public health order known as Title 42. The 19 states argue lifting the policy could lead to an increase in already-record border crossings and strain resources of the states where migrants end up.
Mayor Oscar Leeser said he anticipates high numbers of migrants to continue arriving in El Paso, even with the pandemic-era policy still in place.
The Department of Homeland Security has sounded the alarm about potential violence being sparked by the lifting of Title 42 — the policy that has allowed border officials to turn away asylum seekers during the pandemic. The law enforcement bulletin said there have been extremist calls for attacks targeting migrants.
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) -Even before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday opted to keep in place a measure aimed at deterring border crossings, hundreds of migrants in northern Mexico were taking matters into their own hands to slip into the United States. The contentious pandemic-era measure known as Title 42 had been due to expire on Dec. 21, but last-minute legal stays pitched border policy into limbo and made many migrants decide they had little to lose by crossing anyway. After spending days in chilly border cities, groups of migrants from Venezuela and other countries targeted by Title 42 opted to make a run for it rather than sit out the uncertainty of the legal tug-of-war playing out in U.S. courts.
A familiar mix of disappointment, patience and determination spread among migrants on Mexico's northern border waiting to enter the United States as they faced the reality that pandemic-era asylum limits would remain for now. Cautious optimism for an immediate opening had prevailed after a judge in November ordered in that a public health rule known as Title 42 end Dec. 21. Cristian Alexis Alvarez, 26, said returning to Honduras with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter wasn’t an option after suffering through two kidnappings, hunger and sleeping in the streets on a four-month journey to Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas.
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STORY: A U.S. Supreme Court decision this week leaving in place a contentious pandemic-era measure allowing for the rapid deportation of asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border has left migrants in already dire straits with a difficult decision:Wait in places such as Ciudad Juarez in hopes the policy will be reversed, or risk crossing illegally.Luz Mary Bastardo is a migrant from Venezuela."This feels like a bucket of cold water but we don’t know what to do now they we were told us Title 42 was been prolonged.”Title 42 is the name of the measure enacted under Republican President Donald Trump to justify deporting asylum-seekers in an effort to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.Democratic President Joe Biden had sought to end the measure, but a group of Republican state attorneys general sued the administration, arguing that lifting the policy would increase border-crossings and strain state resources.On Tuesday, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered Title 42 remain in place for now.Luiz Santeliz, from Venezuela, told Reuters he's desperate to enter the U.S., but doesn't want to risk deportation.“I’m afraid to cross illegally because I’m afraid they’ll catch me and return me. I’ll appear on the system and won’t be able to enter the United States. I want to wait, I have faith and hope they’ll deliver news (on Title 42). I’ll wait, God’s time is perfect.”Title 42 had been due to expire on December 21. The high court will hear arguments in the case in February, and will likely issue a decision in June.
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By Ted Hesson and Mica Rosenberg