Pandemic border rules known as Title 42 expired — but questions remain
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Along with the COVID-19 public health emergency, the pandemic border policy known as Title 42 ended last night.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The policy was used to quickly expel migrants without letting them seek asylum. The secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, announced new limits for asylum-seekers now that Title 42 is gone.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: People who arrive at the border without using a lawful pathway will be presumed ineligible for asylum.
FADEL: Immigrant advocates quickly sued to block the requirements, saying they violate U.S. immigration law.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Joel Rose was at the border when Title 42 expired. He joins us now from El Paso, Texas. Joel, let's start with the lawsuit. Who filed, and what does it say?
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Yeah. Immigrant advocates did not waste any time. Just as Title 42 officially expired last night, the ACLU and other immigrant advocacy groups filed to reopen an existing case before a judge in California. They're challenging a new Biden administration rule that makes it much harder for migrants to get asylum if they cross the border illegally after passing through Mexico or another country without seeking protection there first. Advocates say this is nearly identical to previous attempts to restrict access to asylum during the Trump administration that were blocked in court and that it's legal to seek asylum in the U.S. no matter how you arrived in the country.
MARTÍNEZ: So how does Biden administration respond to that?
ROSE: Well, the administration disputes that this rule is the same as Trump's because it has some exemptions and because it's paired with new legal pathways as well. And I would expect the administration to defend this rule vigorously in court because it is a key component of how they plan to manage the border going forward.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. So speaking of the border, you're there at the very moment that Title 42 expired. What did you see?
ROSE: Well, in El Paso, we saw a few hundred migrants lining up on the banks of the Rio Grande in front of a gate in the border wall, trying to turn themselves in to the Border Patrol. There were similar scenes in Arizona. In South Texas, migrants waded through the river to try to reach U.S. soil. Overall, though, there was no sudden rush on the border at the moment that Title 42 lifted, like some had been anticipating. However, we know that there are still tens of thousands of migrants who are in northern Mexico hoping for a chance to seek asylum, and we really don't know what they're going to do next.
MARTÍNEZ: What are you hearing from migrants?
ROSE: We did talk to some migrants in Juarez, just across the border in Mexico yesterday, and they do seem very aware that Title 42 is over. We talked to a young woman named Alejandra Gonzalez, who fled from Venezuela with her husband and her stepson. They tried to turn themselves in to the Border Patrol in El Paso before Title 42 ended. She says they waited for days in the sun outside of the wall on U.S. soil but never got a chance to turn themselves in. Now they are back in Juarez, sleeping in a tent on the street, and they're afraid to try crossing again.
ALEJANDRA GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
ROSE: "Because if we turned ourselves in, we might be deported," she says, "or detained and jailed. And I feel a lot of doubt and fear." And I think that's where a lot of migrants are today. They're confused, and they are fearful about what comes next.
MARTÍNEZ: And there was one other legal development last night in Florida. Joel, what can you tell us about that?
ROSE: Yeah. A federal judge in Florida blocked the Biden administration from releasing migrants from custody without a court date. Normally, immigration authorities do give migrants a date to appear in immigration court before releasing them, but the Biden administration has sometimes released migrants under what's known as parole with instructions to check in later with immigration authorities. And they do this in order to alleviate overcrowding in Border Patrol facilities. And immigration authorities had been preparing to do that again, if necessary, but a judge in Florida issued a temporary restraining order, putting that idea on hold for at least two weeks.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Joel Rose from El Paso, Texas. Joel, thanks.
ROSE: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.